In this episode, we are joined by Angela Maiers to talk about the importance of mattering. Her message began in 2011 with her talk, “You Matter,” at TEDxDesMoines. The message resonated deeply with people and went viral. Since then, Angela has continued to champion and develop her message about the importance of mattering and how it is the foundation upon which we can build our personal genius.
We were created for significance, and one of the most dangerous things that can happen to us as individuals, as organizations, as a community, is the feeling that we don’t matter.
Angela Maiers, from her talk, “You Matter,” at TEDxDesMoines
Mattering and Genius
Angela is a firm believer in the genius of students. She believes they all have gifts that we need to help them unwrap and discover. The first step in doing this is to help them know that they matter. Mattering is the foundation upon which so much potential is realized. Once students realize that they matter, we must give them opportunities to thrive. We can do this by providing authentic and meaningful ways for them to act on their talents and skills. It is through “doing” that students are able to achieve their genius and see evidence that they matter.
While our conversation is based on the concept of mattering and unleashing individual genius, Angela brings in multiple other topics to aid us in finding ways to support our students and help them grow into the best versions of themselves. The following are a few highlights from this episode:
- About Our Guest: Angela Maiers is a world-renowned author, entrepreneur, international keynote speaker, and educator, whose transformative message around the importance of mattering has the power to unleash the genius in us all. She presented a viral talk at TEDxDesMoines, titled “You Matter,” and has since published multiple books on this topic.
- The Foundation: Angela explains that mattering comes first. She says, “Confidence is a result of mattering. Engagement is a result of mattering.” She adds, “The foundation of everything that we see and feel, . . . from apathy to agony, has a root in our struggle to comprehend that we matter.”
- Two Essentials to Mattering: “For mattering to occur, two simultaneous, optimal things have to be present,” Angela shares. These include first knowing that you matter and then contributing to or serving others.
- Knowing You Matter: Angela explains, “You have to see that you have value. You have to see that and know that you are acknowledged, and noticed, and present with people. And then, you have to share that value. And that’s the piece that most people confuse—that mattering is all about me. ‘I want people to see me. I want people to notice me. I want people to hear me.’ And that’s a really important part as a human being. It is a foundation of our dignity, to be recognized as a human being worthy of space—that someone else will notice them, and acknowledge them, and hear and see them.”
- Serving Others: “But the key to mattering—the real key to mattering—is your ability, your purpose, to contribute,” says Angela. “You are here not to just be privileged to being seen by others, but you’re here to serve. You’re here so that your presence can positively impact someone else’s world and someone else’s life. And that is where we as human beings get the deepest gratification. The deepest fulfillment is knowing that we are needed by another person. So these two component parts are very intertwined.”
- Mattering in Classrooms: Mattering requires action. Angela says, “If you think of our role as educators, it isn’t just to see our kids and to hear them and value them, which is essential. It is to have them step up and be essential to one another and to you. It is to trust them. It is to challenge them. It is to demand that contribution is a consistent part of their education.”
- A Kindergarten Story: Angela shares a story of how she helped students believe they mattered in her kindergarten classroom. She did this by assigning them all jobs. They all had importance and mattered in those roles. Angela says that this is key because “the deepest driver of human behavior is to be needed by another person. It is based on your contribution.”
- A Biological Need: Angela cites research pointing to mattering being not only “our first instinct” but also “our most critical instinct because it comes before all other instincts.” She describes it as a biological need.
- To Be Essential: Angela argues that we must believe we are essential. This goes beyond mattering. It means believing that we have something essential to contribute to the world. In her classroom, when working with a group of students who were facing significant life challenges, she didn’t treat them as less than. Instead, she empowered them. She says, “I put them in the lead of the most audacious problems the world needs to be solved.” She convinced them that they were essential to solving those problems. She said to them, “We need collective genius to impact this problem.”
- Light a Fire: Angela talks about how a crisis will unite people and motivate them to be the best versions of themselves. We can use this understanding to light fires in our classroom that require students to rise up and solve problems. Then, by pointing out the genius they used to overcome those problems, we can help those students understand that they matter and have essential value.
- The Key to Passion: After interviewing leaders at many companies, ranging from Google to Blinds.com, Angela discovered that the key to igniting people’s passions was to provide them with both agency and an opportunity to contribute meaningfully. An example of this is Google’s 20% time, where employees could take one day per week to work on a passion project of their choice that aligned with the Google mission.
- Genius Hour: This is the name given to projects in school that were structured like Google’s 20% time. Even more important than providing the opportunity, says Angela, is creating the conditions necessary to nurture genius. To do this, she says, “I will believe in kids. I will trust kids. I will honor kids’ interests and issues.” By doing this, students know they matter. She adds, Genius Hour “is about owning your value, and being able to articulate your value, and showcasing collective genius, and working toward goals that are bigger than yourself.”
- Overcoming a World of Limitations: Adults often dwell on a world defined by limitations. Angela says, “Our kids don’t live in that world. They do not have those boundaries. They live in a world where impossible is being defied every day.” We need to make sure that we’re not limiting them by our own perceptions of limitations.
- Modeling: Angela says, “The greatest predictor of how kids will engage in the world is how they see you engaging in the world—you being their teacher, you being their parent.” She explains, “People [who] know they matter show up differently in the world. People [who] know and believe that they are seen, that they are valued, that they are essential, they show up and embrace everything differently, especially the hard things.”
- Mattering Teams: Angela shares an example of mattering teams at a community gym during the pandemic. The purpose of these relationships was simply to support each other and help them remember that they each matter. She shares, “You cannot change what conditions you currently are in at a macro level, but at a micro level, you can form a care group with two people, one person, and be there for each other.” This is a model that can be replicated in schools and classrooms.
- Peak Moments: Angela cites research showing that the beginning and ending of any event are the most important parts. In our classrooms, this includes a greeting at the door and a closure at the end of class. In these interactions, it’s important to communicate that you see your students and notice things in their lives.
- Share Your Gifts: Angela says, “So the most humble thing that we can do is to share with somebody what it is that we could do for them—what it is that we have, or were gifted with, or have worked on, that would be of value to someone else.”
- Listen: The best way to better understand your students and what it will take to help them believe that they matter is to listen to them.
If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- Why is it so important that people know they matter?
- What are the two essential elements to mattering?
- How can we help students in our classrooms know they matter?
- How can we help colleagues in our schools know they matter?
- What opportunities can we give students to demonstrate their genius?
- How can we fuel student passion for learning?
- How can you leverage the peak moments of your class period?