What if we talked with educators like that?

Dec 20, 2021
Melissa Butler

In our Educators’ Neighborhood community, anytime we show and discuss a clip of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood where Fred Rogers talks with a guest, the conversation overflows with description of all that is beautiful about the interaction. Typically, we discuss such interactions to reflect on our own educator practice: ways to be present with children/families, listen more intently, be vulnerable and honest, nurture others to feel comfortable and accepted as they are.

Here are some things educators notice and describe in episode moments when Fred visits with a guest:

  • Warm greeting, some small talk, usually a hug or a handshake
  • Eye contact is steady and present
  • Undivided attention
  • Appreciation is shown (body language) and stated directly (“I like you.” – “I appreciate our time together.” – “I’m happy to know you.”)
  • Questions about WHY (“What do you love about __?” – “Why do you practice __ and keep learning?”)
  • Questions about WHO (“Who helped you get started?” – “Who took you to your lessons? – “Who taught you to learn to do that?”)
  • Extended listening (one question followed by open space, with small nudges for the guest to continue sharing… “ah ha…” – “hmm…” – “you don’t say…” – “isn’t that beautiful”)
  • Silences (pauses between what is said; much is “said” without being stated aloud)
  • Sense of I am here alongside you (“Could you show me more?” – “Could I do it with you?” – “How do you do that?”)
  • Vulnerability and an invitation to be vulnerable (“Will you help me?” – “I like you.” – “I don’t know…” – “Have you ever been sad?” – “Do you ever make mistakes?”)
  • Deep interest in YOU (“I’d like to hear something you like to play.” – “What do you like best?” – “How do you feel when __?”)

Each of these descriptions is an element educators bring (and aspire to bring) to their practice with children, families, colleagues, and others. It’s assuring, inviting, and accessible to see how Fred Rogers grows a conversation and know that you can do that, too.

Yet, I sense that there is something more at play when educators talk about how Fred visits with guests. There is something beneath and beyond the surface of the words they speak.

There is a longing. An expansive, open-hearted longing for someone to say:

Would you like to sit for a visit?

I see you.

I like you.

Why did you become an educator?

Who taught you how to do all the things you do?

Did you always know how? Did it take a lot of practice?

What do you love about your work?

“Hmm… ah, ha… you don’t say… how beautiful…”

I love listening to you talk.

I’m so happy to know you.

Thank you for being you and sharing who you are with me.

Here’s an invitation to all who read this: Find an educator you know and invite them to sit for a visit. Maybe your child’s teacher, a local crossing-guard, a family therapist, librarian, museum educator, principal, friend, colleague, or neighbor. They’ll likely be surprised and may even ask “Why?”. No need to explain too much. Simply invite them to sit with you, ask them an open question, and listen. The conversation will likely feel like a gift for both of you.

If you’re looking for some inspiration for your conversation, you might like to watch a clip or two of Fred Rogers visiting with a guest. You can find some on Fred Unboxed, an online collection of items from the Fred Rogers Center Archive. Here’s a link to some videos, including visits with Wynton Marsalis, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Andre Watts, STOMP (and others). And, during our last Community Sharing Event on Process, we watched a beautiful clip from episode #1652 of a visit between Fred Rogers and Ella Jenkins. If you’d like to see the clip (and our discussion), you can access the recording here.

Have fun with your conversations! May we enter 2022 overflowing with beauty grown from our listening visits with educators.

Melissa A. Butler is the Project Lead for Educators’ Neighborhood with the Fred Rogers Institute.

Support Us

Your financial support of the Institute helps us expand our initiatives and resources so that educators and children's helpers can continue to learn and grow from Fred Rogers' legacy. Thank you!