Ted Talks: Learning from People We Love

Ted Graf


In second and fourth grades and then again in grades seven and eight, my teacher’s comments were remarkably similar. In fact, when report cards came out my family had a running dinner table joke to see who could most accurately predict the comments. It wasn’t very hard.
  • Teddy is a delight to have in class when he follows directions.
  • If Teddy would socialize less and concentrate on his work more, he would find school more pleasurable.
  • When Teddy applies himself, he is one of our strongest students. Unfortunately, he doesn’t apply himself very often.
  • We would like to see Teddy control his impulses, pay closer attention, and disrupt his classmates less.
The truth is that my comments didn’t change much over my years in school, but the emphasis and relationships with teachers did. I highlight grade 2, 4, 7 and 8 because these were years when I was unconnected to an adult in my schools (but fortunately I was at home). And, so, these comments didn’t have much impact on me, and they certainly didn’t change my behavior.

What did change my behavior and my performance in school was my relationship with my teachers in grades 1, 3, 5, and 6: Mrs. Zito, Mrs. Bouchard, Mrs. Edmunds, Mr. Morgan, and Mrs. Lembo. According to my parents, I was still chatty, still social, still a bit of a class clown, but these teachers converted my energy and distractibility into curiosity and focus. And when things were really working well, they channeled my tendencies into projects, stories, performance, and plays.

In a recent article by David Brooks (who will deliver the opening keynote at SXSW EDU next week), he wrote, “It reminded us what teachers really teach is themselves--their contagious passion for their subjects and students. It reminded us that children learn from people they love, and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person.” Here’s the link if you would like to read the entire article.

One of the many things I love about Headwaters is that students actively reflect on their own work and efforts, over and above any insight or observations our guides make. Our students, starting in fourth grade, lead their own conferences. Students are asked to interpret the comments made about their work and think about them with people who love them--their parents and their guide(s). While it may not work for every student in every conference, our processes are designed to be intrinsic, and to be “owned” by the learner/the student. After all, ultimately, their education is their own.

Nine years ago, my wife, Amy, and our oldest child, Emily, sat down for what would be the first of many college planning meetings (kind of parent-teacher conferences on steroids). As I remember it, the meeting was light-hearted but lots was asked of Emily by the college counselor (not Lisa D by the way) -- SAT planning, initial college essay thoughts, preliminary lists about colleges, etc. As we wrapped up, I noticed Emily gazing at her lists. I wondered how she was feeling. Something in me managed to pause and ask, “Em, what do you need of us in this process?” It turned out to be the right question at the right time.

Next week during conferences, may we focus on our kids and their interpretations of their work. May we ask them what they need to do their best. May we remember that the education is theirs.

Springs Campus

18 months to Pre-K
6305 Menchaca Rd.
Austin, TX 78745
Phone: 512-443-8843

Creek Campus

Elementary School
9607 Brodie Ln.
Austin, TX 78748
Phone: 512-804-2708
Fax: 512-628-4810

River Campus

Middle & High School
807 Rio Grande St.
Austin, TX 78701
Phone: 512-480-8142
Fax: 512-480-0278