If “knowledge is power,” then education is key to having control over your destiny.
It’s not just academic knowledge that’s required for success. It’s also knowledge of yourself, especially knowing your worth, and loving yourself. And more . . .
While this movie is about a teacher and her students, the lessons are for any leadership situation. It is for managers with employees, parents with kids, and any circumstance where one person needs to lead or influence another.
Marva Collins was a teacher in inner-city public school in Chicago. She disagreed with the school administration and teachers who believed that kids in that area there were incapable of learning. Determined to make a difference with students, she opened her own school in her home. Called Westside Preparatory, the school became an educational and commercial success.
1 – THERE’S MORE TO LEARN THEN CAPABILITY WITH TASKS
We all need to learn how to perform. In today’s world, there’s much to learn. In addition to proficiency with our work, we need to learn and practice wellness, eating right, spending wisely, communication skills, and more. It’s not just how to do required tasks though, it’s also about self-love, self-image, what we expect of ourselves, and more. Indeed, when we love ourselves, we will eat right, organize our space, and all the rest!
Collins knew that what the kids needed to learn wasn’t just academic. They would need to learn to love learning and themselves. Classroom mantras included positive affirmations as well as exchanges where Collins would ask a question and the kids responded:
- COLLINS: Who’s the most important person?
- STUDENTS: Me!
- COLLINS: And what’s the most important time?
- STUDENTS: Now!
2 – POSITIVE EXPECTANCY TRUMPS FEAR
We know what we want to do, but too often fears can stop us in our tracks. There are so many fears, of rejection, of criticism, or failure, and more.
Confidence comes from competency and positive self-talk. When we learn that we really can do what we set our minds to, and that we don’t have to wait for anybody – that’s a “secret sauce for success.”
Before the kids gained confidence, Collins “knew” for them – that every child can learn! Many of her students had been labeled as unable to be educated.
The only thing your boss is going to care about is whether you can or cannot.
She began building positive expectations with her kids by teaching them how special they are. “There’s no one with your eyes, with your hair, with your _________. That means you are really special.” Collins would say, “the kids know the lyrics to popular songs. What makes us think they become ‘learning disabled” when they get to school?’ They can learn, memorize, retain, and recite anything!”
3 – PATIENCE . . . AND URGENCY
We learn one step at a time. We can slip and fall along our path to proficiency.
We can expect to learn with more speed than we might think.
Sometimes parents thought Collins was pushing their kids to learn too fast. The fact is, Collins pushed the kids to learn quickly, but not ‘too’ quickly, obviously. The proof was in the pudding – kids were pushed to achieve, to love the process (and themselves), and to take pride in their accomplishments.
– What do you tell yourself about what you can learn, and how long it will take?
– Why do you want to learn some subject or task?
– How long do you want it to take?
– What will it cost you to go slower? How will you gain by being quicker about it?
4 – SELF-BELIEF IS THE FOUNDATION FOR SKILL BUILDING
What happens that we begin to believe in ourselves? On the other hand, what happens before we fail to believe in ourselves? Which comes first, the belief or the skill.
Collins began by teaching that all kids are special. She believed in her kids before they believed in themselves. I’m reminded of a line from the movie, The Edge. Billionaire and his party crashed in the frozen tundra and must escape before they starve or freeze to death. He tells himself, “whatever one man can do, another can do.” Other people had survived being lost in the wilderness, so he knew they could too.
When a student sat slumped with their head down, Collins would lift their head with a gentle hand under their chin and say, “Speak up, you are brilliant.” As one of her students, Michael Anderson, said many years later, in a 60-Minutes follow-up piece, “When you hear that you are brilliant every, day five days a week, for three or four years, it’s in you; it becomes a part of you. She told each of us, ‘You are brilliant, honey,” you begin to believe it.”
5 – RAISE STANDARDS TO INCLUDE MORE THAN THE TASK AT HAND
It’s common knowledge that when we do a team sport, we also learn about teamwork, camaraderie, and more. We learn to stick through to the end, to dig in and bring out capability even when we are hurting, we learn to do whatever it takes to succeed. It’s the same in Collins’ classroom.
Kids were learning lessons and critical thinking from classic books, but along the way, Collins included geography, foreign languages, vocabulary, manners, speaking in front of a group, poise, self-confidence, and more.
In the movie, a student gets on the phone to order a cake from a bakery. She negotiates price and terms like a seasoned professional. In Collins school, she learned to stand up for herself, to question others’ terms, and to clearly articulate her needs and wants.
6- EXPERIENCES ARE LEARNING EVENTS
Yes, field trips are fun, but they can also bring core ideas to life. For example, to me, movies are not just to entertain, or educate for an hour or so, they are to enlighten, inspire, and even change our paths. Watching Collins in action, I decided to include some language and vocabulary lessons in my books and workbooks. Why not use every opportunity for teaching . . . and learning? This applies not just for children in school but for adults who can love their life-long learning path.
To learn from field trips, movies, or other experiences, we can stop and take note of the lessons present.
When Collins taught about merchants and finances, she took the kids to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It was a rich experience, much more so than going to the local zoo.
7 – PUBLICITY & NOTORIETY WORKS
No matter what it is that we are doing commercially (or in other ways), getting attention – and support – can help. Often the support we need is financial, or with team members, other times it’s with attracting more “customers.”
Collins struggled financially; her family paid a price for her vision. Attracting money helped! Further, Collins’ “customers” were students and with exposure, enrollments went up. Collins first break happened when the reporter, Zay N. Smith, wrote about Collins and Westside Prep in the Chicago Sun-Times. With that article, donations and enrollments increased dramatically.
That article inspired a 60-Minutes show and then they revisited Collins and her methods years later. The attention Collins got – and her remarkable story – inspired the movie, The Marva Collins Story, starring Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman, which aired on TV.
8 – “EACH ONE REACH ONE, THEN TEACH THOUSANDS”
When you reach mastery, turn around and give someone else a hand up. Success is best when it’s shared. And, if you have a unique ability that many can benefit from, share your expertise with thousands – so you ‘clone’ yourself and your methods.
Collins trained teachers for her schools, then she went all over the country teaching her methods to thousands of other teachers.
- How can you help someone else?
- How can you reach thousands and share your unique gifts?
With today’s technology, we can reach thousands. With YouTube videos, apps, games, publishing on demand, and more – we don’t need anyone’s permission to go out and make a difference. Period.
SIXTY MINUTES FOLLOW-UP REPORT
CREATE POSITIVE THINKING
(Focus on the quality of the lesson; overlook the poor video quality.)