As a little girl, I remember running into the house everyday excited to watch another episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on television. The memories of this friendly little community evoke so many positive emotions. In fact, it’s hard to articulate how much of an impact it made on my upbringing and my life. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was more than an entertaining children’s television program. It was a daily reminder that I was valuable, worthy of love, and accepted just as I was. I was lucky to grow up in a home where this message was echoed loudly. My mom would sing “It’s You I Like” as a bedtime lullaby and would validate my worth daily in countless ways. For that, I’m so incredibly grateful. I think about the homes where love and acceptance isn’t spoken. These 30 minutes a day may have been the only place a child was told they are special, valued, and that their feelings mattered. How many lives were shaped by a man who spoke love through a television screen?
Tonight I watched the new movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” with my son. As I watched actor,Tom Hanks, play the character of Mr. Rogers, nostalgia wafted over me. The emotions of a sensitive little girl came flooding back and I started to piece together how Fred Rogers left such a profound legacy. It seems quite complex at first thought. There were so many values and life lessons he taught. Though when you really sum it up, it’s quite simple. It was never about him. He wasn’t in it for fame or celebrity status. He pursued a life of purpose, passion and a pursuit of making the world a better place because he cared deeply about people. He understood the incredible responsibility he had to his viewing public and he took it very seriously. He valued life and he lived that on and off the screen in numerous ways.
VALUE PEOPLE BY LISTENING
Fred Rogers taught us that each person has extreme value. When Fred talked to you through the television or in real life, you were the most important person in the room. As expressed in countless interviews and documentaries I've watched, he didn’t try to finish your thoughts or speak over you. He listened intently and fully and when he spoke it was slow and intentional. It is easy to indicate when a person is truly listening to me. I can tell when they are looking at me, but actually focused on another conversation around me; distracted with their thoughts, or trying to formulate a response before I’m done speaking. It feels horrible. It makes me feel disrespected and like what I’m saying is unimportant. It is horrifying to think that I may have made others feel the same way in past conversations. Am I truly listening with an open mind and heart when others speak? Am I giving them my full and utmost attention? I want to learn to listen like Fred and make people feel special and valued always. In education we are bombarded with distractions continuously. It’s easy to half listen because of the hundreds of thoughts and problems that are circulating through our mind at any given moment. I am guilty! But, it breaks my heart to think that someone could think that what I’m doing in that moment is more important than what they have to tell me. The reality is, sometimes we can’t give our full attention at any given moment. However if that is the case, we need to tell a person that and let them know when we will be able to. Listening is valuing those we serve and letting them know they are important and special and liked just the way they are.
VALUE PEOPLE'S EMOTIONS
Fred Rogers acknowledged that emotions are normal and gave strategies for dealing with them in a positive way. He talked about big issues because he believed that anything “mentionable is manageable” and worth talking about. I learned early that the big feelings I was hiding inside were normal and that talking about them was important. I remember being afraid of the events on the news and conversations I’d hear adults talk about. Listening to Mr Rogers talk about them in a way I understood, helped me process and understand them. I was fortunate to live in a home where emotions were welcomed and expressed freely, but even then there were emotions that I didn’t understand, express, or know what to do with. When Mr Rogers looked straight into the camera it was like he was talking directly to me. I felt normal and that what I was experiencing in my thoughts was validated. When the trolley entered the land of make-believe, I was entering a world where I could grapple with emotions in a pretend space that felt safe and non-threatening. Our students come into our classes with many emotions that they don’t know what to do with? How are we helping them process them? Our world can be a scary and confusing place and our students need to feel safe sorting out all the feelings that face them on a daily basis? Acknowledging that our students feelings are normal and giving them strategies to deal with them in a positive way is going to make a lasting impact on how they handle their emotions for a lifetime.
VALUE THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE BROUGHT YOU INTO BEING
In Fred’s acceptance speech when inducted into the TV Hall of Fame as well as the Emmy Awards, he paused for 10 seconds after asking this very important question, “Who are the people who loved you into being and shaped who you are today. Who made you the best version of you that you’ve ever been." It’s important to acknowledge the important part those who’ve loved us played in making us who we are. We don’t walk this life alone. There are people who care about us and want what is best for us in life. They believe in us when we doubt ourselves. They speak truth when we need to hear it. They love us when we feel unlovable. When we pause to recognize and appreciate those who have helped shape who we are, it also reminds us of the responsibility and privilege we have to love others into being as well. How can we help our students appreciate and acknowledge those that are loving them into being? Showing students ways to express appreciation and gratitude helps allows students to see the pivotal part that others are playing in their life as well as the impact they can make on others’ lives too.
As I watched a beautiful day in the neighborhood tonight I’m reminded of the power of a legacy. We each hold the incredible responsibility to live a life of purpose, passion, and to make this world a better place through our own unique gifts, skills, and talents. As educators we have the opportunity to love students into being. How cool is that?! We make choices every day that help shape the lives of the youth we serve. When we are present and listen fully, we are showing people that they are the most important person in our world at that moment; that they are valued, respected, and heard. When we validate our students feelings and create spaces where they feel safe to share and learn to express them in positive ways, we are helping them navigate a lifetime of emotions and handle them in a healthy way. When we appreciate and value those who have loved and shaped who we are today, we honor the legacy of others. In Fred’s acceptance speech when inducted into the TV Hall of Fame he beautifully expresses his passion and purpose of legacy that will live on for generations:
“Fame is a four letter word. And like tape or zoom or face or pain or life or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it. I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job is. We are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen day and night.”
“Life isn’t cheap. It is the greatest mystery of any millenium and television needs to do all it can to broadcast that. To show and tell what the good in life is all about. But how do we make goodness attractive. By doing whatever we can to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own. By treating our neighbor at least as well as we treat ourselves and by allowing that to inform everything that we produce."
“We all only have one life to live on earth and through television we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative and imaginative ways”
Read this again and replace the word "television" with “education”. I want to live my life like Fred. With passion, purpose, and intention, bringing value to a broken world of people that so desperately needs to feel accepted and loved. We all only have one life to live on earth. How are we going to value and encourage those we serve? Don't ever underestimate the power of your legacy. You are making a lasting impact on this world and generations to come. I want to live like Fred, but I know what he'd say. Live like YOU. Because there is no else like you on this earth and the world needs you, just the way you are.
This acceptance speech will touch your heart. Be prepared to shed a few tears. Tissues suggested.
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.