Rogers was a PBS staple when I was a child. I wasn't a dedicated watcher, but on the occasions I did see the show, I enjoyed it. I always learned something from the show and it was a great exercise in imagination. Even though Fred Rogers passed away in 2003, I think the 895 episodes he made still have a lot to teach us about how to be a great educator, but only if you are willing to use your imagination.
- Relationship-building beats content and pedagogy every time. Mr. Rogers never spoke above his audience. He didn't "teach" at you; he talked to his audience and we learned in the process. He did things in a friendly, conversational style and he always talked to his television audience as if they were right there in the room. It seemed that no matter what Mr. Rogers was doing he always had the time to stop and talk to his neighbors, whether on they were the television neighbor or a person in his studio.
- Be willing to acknowledge that kids can be better at something than you are. Mr. Rogers had a lot of friends and was never afraid to stop what he was doing to admire someone else doing a good job. I recently saw a video of Mr. Rogers doing a bit of break-dancing. He freely admitted to Jermaine that he would never be able to dance as well as Jermaine did. Often, teachers think they have to be the expert on everything since they are the adult in the classroom. However, if we are willing to be transparent with students and let them see that we are human, with our own gifts, the relationships we build with students(see #1) can go much deeper.
- Be consistent with who you are and what students can expect from you. There is likely only a small population of Americans who have never seen the opening scene of Rogers' show. He opened every show exactly the same way. Even as a 41 year old adult, there is still something comforting about hearing him sing that song, change into the zip-up cardigan, put on his comfy shoes, and welcome me to the neighborhood. I am constantly amazed that he could time everything so that he would be tying the last shoelace when the song ended. Teachers who are consistent (different than stagnant) will be more successful at causing learning to occur. Plan and procedures must be put into place so that students know what they should be doing at any given time. Otherwise, a huge amount of time can be wasted. This can also be applicable to teacher personalities. Students cannot focus on learning if they are fearful of some kind of outburst of wrath from the teacher when the class is not acting "as they should". Remember teachers, we are adults and are charged to act in a professional manner when things don't go as we had planned.
- Inquiry is a great way to learn about content and about people. Mr. Rogers was always willing to answer a question. He never shied away from questions, whether it was from a viewer or from the US Senate (defending the value of public broadcasting). He used questions to engage people in conversation. He asked people about their interests, objects they were carrying, where they were going, and what they had been doing. He got to know people simply by engaging them with questions. In these times of high-stakes testing, it can be hard to have time to answer students' questions and to get to know them through simple questioning. Maybe social media would be a way to engage in asynchronous dialogue? Just a thought.
- Be positive. Mr. Rogers always encouraged people to do their best in whatever they did. I'll be the first to admit that our education system has its faults. I'm sure most people have an opinion about that subject and could talk about that all day. However, if teachers see a problem, maybe they should work on fixing the problem instead of moaning about it all the time. Often, this means working within the existing system instead of actually changing it. If you are part of the system, and the system is not working as it should, I think the only thing to be said is, "How can I work within the system to help my students succeed?" Anything beyond that is just whining. Either change the system, or work within it to get the results you are seeking.
Mr. Rogers' show could be a bit awkward at times. However, I think that awkwardness shows that Mr. Rogers was just an ordinary guy. He was real. He wanted to engage the viewer. He didn't have a lot of fluff. No computer animation (that I know of). He encouraged viewers to use their imagination in the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe." When was the last time you asked students to imagine something?