Rita Pierson: "Build relationships with your students."

“We’re educators. We’re born to make a difference.” – Rita F. Pierson

We mourn the passing of educator Rita F. Pierson who died on June 28, 2013, at the age of 61. We were honored to have her contribute to TED Talks Education last May. Her passionate and powerful speech on that program moved viewers around the country and quickly became a fan favorite. We will never forget the difference Pierson made through her tireless work as both an educator of 40 years and a staunch anti-poverty advocate.

Read TED’s moving tribute remembering Rita F. Pierson.

The difference Pierson refers to is not only helping students learn, but being a positive force in their lives. In her TED Talk, she calls on teachers to build relationships with their students, no matter how challenging that may be. Pierson shares examples of gestures large and small to bolster students’ self-esteem, down to how she marked a quiz that a student had failed.

“Every child deserves a champion—an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

“I gave [my students] a saying to say: ‘I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here.’”

Pierson quotes others in her talk as well:
Stephen Covey had the right idea…’Seek first to understand as opposed to being understood.'”
James Comer says that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”
George Washington Carver says all learning is understanding relationships.”

Pierson’s talk has received over 1.3 million views on TED.

Rita Pierson speaking at TED Talks Education
Rita F. Pierson, Ed.D.
Speaker, TED Talks Education

Rita F. Pierson, Ed.D. of Houston, Texas, has been a professional educator since 1972. As an educator, she has served in numerous roles, including elementary regular and special education teacher, junior high school teacher, counselor, assistant principal, director, testing coordinator, and consultant. In addition, she is a Licensed Professional Counselor. Dr. Pierson also developed and implemented a school/community involvement program for a large urban elementary school, as well as organized and trained an in-school crisis team for students in need of immediate intervention. For the past decade she has conducted professional development training and seminars for thousands of educators.

Selected workshops presented and products by Rita Pierson:
Rita Pierson presents A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Under-Resourced Learners, Engage and Graduate Your Secondary Students: Preventing Dropouts, Research-Based Strategies, Evening Workshop with Parents, Reclaiming the Classroom: Discipline and Working with Parents, Hidden Rules of Class at Work, and What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty. Rita Pierson is the author of Teaching on Your Feet: 10 lessons on being a master teacher (Audio CD) and Rita’s Stories (DVD).

  • http://www.facebook.com/dannakiel Danna Kiel

    Her TED Talk was Ah-mazing…absolutely gave me chills!

  • Sylvia Jauregui

    Rather disappointed that TED is featuring a speaker that pushes A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Although her TED Talk doesn’t feature this, it’s still disheartening. Deficit model thinking towards students of poor families is the last thing that we need to do in education.

    • Support Your Local PBS Station

      Your comment inspired me to seek out the framework that you referenced. I cannot imagine that someone would be disheartened at the notion that poverty and the families mired in it require or deserve understanding.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.ehle.1 Jennifer Ehle

      I think UNDERSTANDING is a HUGE part of building a relationship. I think it only makes sense that she is a proponent of this framework.

    • http://twitter.com/cindileo1 Cindi Hernandez

      Sylvia, have been to some Ruby Payne workshops on this topic, and have worked with children from poverty in education for 30+ years…..I agree with Jennifer and “support your local PBS station”…how could understanding toward kids from poverty be in any way something to dishearten one???

    • Alonzo Jacobs

      What do you recommend? That we sweep them under the rug or just ignore them? Please explain.

    • Heart

      I think your comment shows that you don’t understand anything that she tried to impart which is sad.. In fact, it is critical to build up students that need support versus acting as if their problems/issues do not exist and do not require special understanding/approach. Please look into cultural relevance professional development workshops, it may help you to understand.

  • TIMMY188

    May the Lord comfort Pastor Pierson in the passing of Rita Pierson. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. May the work she embarked on be blessed in the lives she touched hear on Earth. Heaven has a special place for Rita, and we will see you again in that great getting up morning in the sky.

  • Christopher Hinds

    As a youth worker I was so inspired by Dr. Pierson’s TED Talk that I immediately shared it with my staff announcing that she was my new hero. I was sad to learn of her passing but I know she will live on in the changed lives of her students and in the thousands of educators and youth workers who live out her mission everyday.

  • VG

    A great one gone too soon. She will live on in the thousands and possibly millions she inspired.

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