“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou
The most important element that we bring to any human endeavour or interaction is the quality of our own presence. Educating is influencing. The social web of human interactions are the mutual and reciprocal field in which we live and learn. All social and organisational life, whether in formal educational institutions like schools, colleges and training centres, or in workplaces, are potentially, and ideally, spaces of educational practice – that is places where people come together, to grow and learn from each other.
In workplaces it is often referred to as ‘leadership’ – but education (from ‘educare’) is nothing more than ‘the leading out’ or the ‘drawing forth’ of a person’s potential for growth and development. All leaders are educators, and all people are leaders, because to lead is to set an example from which others can learn. By your sheer presence on planet Earth you are exerting influence and it is the great privilege of our lives that we get to decide what kind of influence we would like to have. As Maya Angelou points out above, we often think it is what we say or do that is most important but in reality, it is what we are, the qualities and values we embody in our lives that have the most educative effect on people.
In her book “Time to think”, Nancy Kline writes about a time when, as a teacher, a complaint was made about the books she was introducing to her students. The principal reassured her with the following:
“I don’t care which books you teach as long as you remember one thing. The students are learning you. They will forget about D.H. Lawrence. But you and your life they will remember. Be sure you like what they are learning”.
This is a kind of ‘hidden curriculum’ in education and life: The supposed primary material of content of what you learnt is soon lost (What can you recall of the content you learnt in school and college?), but the emotional learning and meaningful moments of a person’s presence and how they made you feel, remain.
Kline concludes, in relation to her principal: “I am still learning that from him thirty years later, long after his death. You don’t have to be alive to keep teaching if you have taught your life while you lived”.
This is the greatest legacy anyone can have. That we have touched and deeply affected those with whom we lived. In the most ordinary of interactions we can act as a catalyst, a spark, that brings something alive in the other, that draws something out from them. By working to become more fully human, and embodying the best that is within us we can bring light to the lives of others, a light that they too can pass on.