Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Connectors Inspire People

In this ninth chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell discusses the fourth set of principles for connecting, namely, that connectors inspire people.

The converse of this is also true, namely, that people who do not connect do not inspire, and in the worst case, they can even discourage others.

Let me introduce this topic by relating the “Tale of Two Teachers”, two fourth-grade teachers whose ability (or lack thereof) to connect with me had a tremendous impact on my academic performance.

My fourth-grade teacher in Catholic school was a person who taught to the average student.   If you were slower than average, or faster than average, you were overlooked.    I tested at a level two grades above my current level, and so I was bored with the homework that I was given–so I didn’t do it.    My grades were obviously way out of sync with my potential, and my mother and father were concerned.   They asked the teacher to give me something more challenging, but her philosophy was “If he does all the work I give him and gets straight As, I might give him something more challenging.”   My parents instinctively understood that the teacher had the situation backwards.

The situation came to a head in the second month of class, when the teacher asked for us to do a special “show and tell” report and her instructions were to do a presentation to the class on some subject that we were interested in that might be of interest to the other children as well.    I looked at the World Book Encyclopedia, and I found an interesting place called Afghanistan, which was totally unlike Chicago where I was growing up, and therefore of interest to a curiosity-laden child like myself.    I tried to get my bed-sheet tied up around me in the form of a native costume, but tripped over it coming down the stairs and almost broke my neck on the landing.   My parents decided that as visually dramatic as it was, it was a safety hazard and I would just have to rely on my description of the country and its people to tell the other kids about it.

I practiced and practiced my presentation, and I got up in the front of the other kids and … at the end, they all applauded as politeness dictated, but I could see a lot of them had open-mouthed looks of surprise and/or astonishment.    Then, the teacher promptly began to YELL at me for not obeying her instructions.    “I asked you to do a presentation on something that the OTHER children might be interested in.   They’re not interested in some place called Franistan.”    “It’s called Afghanistan,” I helpfully corrected her.   “Whatever!   I want you to come back next week and do something that the other children might enjoy.”

I was frankly too stunned to cry or get angry at the unfairness of what she said.   Well, when I got home and I was asked at dinner the usual “how did it go?” question from my parents, I told them exactly what the teacher said.   My mother was a woman who, when she was angry, didn’t raise her voice, but who instead got deathly quiet, like the eye of a hurricane just before the highest winds start to hit.    “I’m having a talk with your teacher tomorrow.”   I was just glad that I wasn’t the target of that anger my mother kept simmering just below the surface of the volcano of her frown.

When she went into the teacher, the teacher repeated her position, and so my mother went to the principal.   My mother explained that her son was obviously bored with the ordinary curriculum, and she asked if the teacher could assign him some additional materials that might engage my interest.    The principal said basically that the teacher didn’t have time, because if she made an exception for me, she would have to then start giving special materials to 30 different children, and the school didn’t have the resources for that.   Besides, the principal said, your son is being disruptive in class and that is probably why the teacher reacted that way.    My mother said he is disruptive because he is bored, not because he wants to be bad.   If you gave him something challenging, he would behave.   No, the principal insisted, he has to conform first, and then they might, just might, give me something additional to do.

My mother got up, said thank you to the principal for informing her of her views, and said, “I’m withdrawing my son from your school as of tomorrow.”    My mother then went over to the public school, and talked to the principal, who was more progressive in her educational views.   My mother described the incident, and the principal said, “well, he sounds very bright!   I think I have the right teacher for him.”   She called my new teacher, Mrs. Schmeichel, who was a relatively young teacher whose husband taught science in one of the junior high schools in the neighborhood.   When she was told of my interest in foreign countries, she was ecstatic about having me in her class because she wanted to get the other kids interested in places outside the United States, and I seemed like the ideal student to help her.    She connected with my mother and not only recognized my special talents and gifts, but made them seem like they were going to be an essential part of her teaching plan for the year.    From that first day of class, I was enthralled with my new teacher and was always doing special reports and projects that kept me busy and, more importantly for Mrs. Schmeichel, quiet.

In fact, the first time when there was a parent-teacher conference, my mother related how she asked how I was doing, because I always answered that things were “great” at school, and she concerned that I might be exaggerating how well they were going because I was afraid my mother would yank me out of another school if I admitted how things were really going.

“Well, he really is doing very well, but there is one problem I see,” Mrs. Schmeichel related to my mother.   My mother recalled thinking “oh, here it comes!”    “He’s … a little on the quiet side.”    My mother stopped and had to make sure that Mrs. Schmeichel had the correct report in her folder.   “We are … talking about Jerome, I take it?   Not some other kid?”    “Yes,” my teacher laughed.   “You see he gets so absorbed in what he’s doing that he doesn’t interact as much with the other students as I would like.   But there’s time to work on that … it’s really no big deal.”

Later on in life, I realized that my model as a teacher, trainer and educator has always been that first model of educational tolerance for someone who was “out of the mainstream”.    Mrs. Schmeichel did not try to fit me into her factory formula of dealing with an “average student.”   Not only did she recognize me as an individual, but she made me feel like I was an important part of the class.   Of course at first I gloried in the attention she gave me, but later on in the year I could see she did that with all of the students.

She was one of my first examples of an adult who connected with me, truly connected with me and all of interests and experiences, no matter how unusual they were, and inspired me to take whatever I was interested in and GO!    As a Toastmaster just leaving the position of Vice President Education, that same spirit of encouragement is something I aspire to live up to every day.

Now, the next post will get into the meat of the chapter, which is what John Maxwell calls the Inspiration Equation, where he lists the elements you need to have in order to inspire your audience.


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