Editor’s Note: Leader. Visionary. Entrepreneur. Disruptor. Change Maker. Angela Maiers embodies each of these descriptors with passion, commitment and fierce determination. She has been creating and leading change in education and enterprise for 31 years, teaching every level of school from grade school to graduate school and consulting with companies around the world.
As a young teacher, Angela had an epiphany: people need to matter. They need to be noticed, valued, and honored. Significance is even more important than success. Ever since, the You Matter message has been changing hearts, minds, and lives. Learn more about her #Choose2Matter initiative and the community. This interview originally appeared in the May issue of the 1635 newsletter. Subscribe here.
1. My experience in my public school was…
As a first-child, I was “the perfect” student, a teacher pleaser. I did exactly what was expected of me. I did well in Science and Math, so I studied pre-Med in college, because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re good in math and science. I was weeks away from taking the MCATs when a professor changed my life.
To pay for my education, I had done extensive clinical work with children. One day, I was leaving a class when one such professor asked me why I planned to go to medical school. When my three lame attempts to answer his question failed to include the words, “because I want to be a doctor,” he told me that never before had he met a student who was so clearly meant to teach children. A year later, I was teaching a kindergarten class, my destiny permanently altered by one professor.
I want students today to figure out a lot earlier than I did what it is they are destined to do.
2. When I think of public education, I…
In too many schools, the students, and even the teachers and administrators, are the same sort of pleaser that I was. They don’t aim for greatness; they aim for “above average,” and the road to success is narrowly defined for them. As Stanford Professor William Damon says, the biggest problem for teens today is not stress; it’s meaninglessness. Our students are not being prepared for a world that rewards self-awareness, world awareness, empathy, passion, fierce determination, and the ability to solve problems collaboratively.
I speak in front of, and to, more than 100,000 educators each year. So many tell me they’re struggling. They are in the cross hairs of politicians and philanthropists whose only time in the classroom as adults was for photo ops. Their students take standardized tests every year, instead of every four years, and teachers are pushed to “teach to the test.” This teacher’s email to me epitomize the impact the You Matter message has on these educators, who are so hungry for the chance to make a difference in the lives of their students and colleagues:
“I left for the conference feeling pretty burned out and dissatisfied with my work. I decided that I wasn’t going to attend the opening keynote. I had a feeling that your message would hit home, that I would burst into tears in front of everyone. I wasn’t willing to be that vulnerable. I woke up at the crack of dawn. I saw this as a sign to get my sulking butt to your keynote. I did cry in front of everyone, but that didn’t matter. Your message inspired me not only to facilitate a groundbreaking activity with my colleagues, to coach and lead differently, but it compelled me to have a look deeper inside and to see my value to the world, to see how much I matter. Essentially, your message made me a stronger, better person, so thank you.”
3. If I were telling the story of public education…
I tell the story of public education every day. I focus on the thousands of stories I witness of educators who are doing life-changing work by believing in themselves and in their students, living bravely and owning their genius. They are challenging and empowering students to find and explore their passions and change the world.
4. Why do you find it important to spread the message of “You Matter” and how can school communication professionals help spread this message?
You Matter can be summed up in these words:
“We were created for significance. One of the most dangerous things that can happen to us as individuals, as organizations, as a community, is to get the feeling that we don’t matter.
To matter means to be of consequence or importance to others. It means you are significant, relevant, worthy of note and of crucial value. The world may not always affirm this. Your friends and family may not adequately communicate the importance of your presence in their lives. But that doesn’t mean that what you do and who you are doesn’t have a profound impact on the world. It does. The world would be a very different place — a lesser place — without you.”
Mattering is the belief that other people notice you, value you and honor you. It is your answer to the question: “Do I make a difference in the lives of others?”
Extensive research shows that the root cause of substance abuse, anxiety, bullying, self-harm and other social ills is often a feeling that we don’t matter. It also puts a burden on organizations and communities that depend on people contributing their full potential and energy and passion.
We spends billions of dollars purchasing, and thousands of hours implementing, programs designed to counter these social ills. Yet creating a culture in which everyone knows they matter takes a few thoughtful, intentional minutes each day, and costs nothing.
We’ve spent the past six years teaching educators how to communicate the message that everyone matters. Our work can be found on our website, and by following us on Facebook and Twitter. We also are about to release an online professional development course and launch a new community website!
5. A word of inspiration for those working in public education…
Technology is changing the role of educators; it is not replacing them. The role of an educator in the 21st century is not less; it is different. Educators always have and always will play an extraordinary role in developing their students.
Technology does not change lives. People do.
No technology will ever change lives in these ways:
- Look into a student’s eyes, so that they see in our eyes that we love them and believe in them.
- Assure students that the world is a beautiful place, and that they are beautiful creatures.
- Shine a light on their brilliance, and honor them for who they are, right here, right now.
- Serve as a voice of reason, courage, and hope.
- Dwell in possibility; help students stretch their thinking and envision success, and thus open the door to their true potential.
1635 is a newsletter and a monthly moment to propel us forward in public education. Each month it features long-form content from those working both inside public education and from those on the outside looking in. We can learn so much from both viewpoints. The newsletter delivers the last Tuesday of every month. Subscribe.