Recently I watched the critically-acclaimed film The King’s Speech. I’m not a huge movie fan and certainly not a reliable critic, but I have to say that this film deserves all the praise. It’s amazing.
In case anyone doesn’t know the basic story, here’s a recap. Prince Albert, Duke of York (“Bertie”) has a severe stammer. It’s the dawn of radio broadcasting as a political tool, and the film opens with his inability to deliver a speech across the empire. Having tried multiple approaches to overcoming the stammer, the Prince begins to see Lionel Logue, a speech therapist found by his wife Elizabeth. In short order his father dies, his brother both ascends to and abdicates the throne, leading to Bertie being ordained as King George VI. Meanwhile, war is declared against Hitler’s Germany. The film climaxes with the king’s speech about this event. (If you want to know more of the basics or delve more into the film and the history, here are the official site and the Wikipedia page.)
The main plot and various sub-plots reveal insights into most complicated human relationships. Leadership, marriage, family, therapist-patient, politics, social class—certainly I’m missing some others. Naturally, I had on my education lenses. Without spoiling anything, I want to highlight how the film reaffirms some essential truths about education:
· Meet the Student Where He or She Is—Lionel has treated many patients and experienced a great deal of success. But he doesn’t assume what has worked for any other patient will work for Bertie. Instead, he studies his patiently carefully and asks numerous probing questions. He learns exactly how to help Bertie with specific sounds and in particular situations; in one scene he literally becomes a conductor attuned to every nuance of Bertie’s speaking. It’s emotional and intellectual empathy.
· See the Possibilities—One of my favorite quotations is by Bengali artist Rabindranath Tagore: “Every child that is born is proof that God has not yet given up on human beings.” Keeping this idea in mind stresses what each child may be able to become. Lionel sees the greatness ready to burst out of Bertie. He helps Bertie believes it’s there.
· It’s Always about More than the Subject—Lionel determines quite early that the problem is not a physical one, meaning that Bertie has all the basics in place. In other words, he can learn the subject. Other factors are in play. And what enables the men to work together is not just Lionel’s expertise, but also the relationship that develops between them.
· Create a Safe Place—The entire situation is unnerving for Bertie, and from the beginning Lionel seems a threat because of how he breaches standard royal etiquette. Yet he gradually makes Bertie feel safe with him, enabling the breakthroughs necessary for him to progress in his treatment. Almost always emotions rule over the rational.
· Motivation is Major—Bertie has pressures and the related motivation that few of us could imagine. It’s an extreme response to the age-old student question, “When am I ever going to use this?” It also reminds us that students learn best when they see some relevance, and they want meaningful opportunities to use the skills they are developing.
· Resilience is Huge—Unless a person develops the tenacity and grit and determination to overcome challenges, he or she will suffer from limitations, particularly in difficult situations. In many ways, failure of some sort is necessary for learning and growth to occur. Great teachers know to frustrate students in just the right way, then help them build themselves back up. We aren’t really helping kids if we are always clearing the path for them and/or picking them up when they stumble. If we do, how do they learn to persevere?
· It’s about Who You Are and What You Give—Lionel is not a doctor or even a licensed therapist. Yet his personal gifts and his generosity with them make him a master teacher. Bertie’s heart and courage override his shortcomings. It’s like the strengths finder concept.
As I ponder this list, I’m reminded of Parker Palmer’s oft-quoted line, “You teach who you are.” It also suggests that learning in many ways means finding out who you are…and what you can become.