Nicole Krueger
Ashley Judd: Never underestimate the value of encouragement

There are two kinds of learning: the kind you do with your head, and the kind you do with your heart.

One can lead to tremendous academic achievement, career advancement and material success. The other has the potential to make us fuller, wiser, stronger human beings.

Which type of learning are we offering today's kids?

" "My granny used to say, 'What comes from the head goes over the head and what comes from the heart goes straight to the heart,' " " actor and humanitarian Ashley Judd said in her opening keynote at ISTE 2014. " "So I'm just going to tell my story." "

Thousands of educators gathered for the official conference kickoff Saturday evening, many expecting to hear about one of the diverse facets of education technology. What they got was a heartfelt and sometimes tearful reminder about the most important thing educators can do for their students.

" "If the only thing you do as educators is believe the child that comes to you, you'll have done enough," " she said after detailing her personal history of abuse and recovery. " "It is incumbent on us to see, to ask questions." "

In a conversational speech peppered with anecdotes from her childhood and her experiences visiting abuse victims around the world, Judd illustrated the importance — no, the absolute necessity — of building relationships with students. She recalled a 12th grade English teacher who taught her how to write and whose encouragement motivated her to pull herself up from a failing grade in geometry to graduate near the top of her class.

" "That is the power we have for the young people in our lives. We should never underestimate the value of that word of encouragement or even eye contact," " she said.

Her speech came right on the heels of Montana district superintendent Laurie Barron's imperative to educators to " "always teach kids before you teach content." " It's a message that resonated with many ISTE 2014 attendees, including K-5 assistant principal Kiana Coleman of Alabama.

" "Ashley Judd reminded me to see beyond the content and see the child," " she said on Twitter. " "We never know what issues these kids bring with them." "

Middle school principal Lisa Nagamine of Hawaii said she was moved to tears by Judd's storytelling.

" "To hear what she went through reminds us that we really need to listen to kids," " she said. " "A lot of times we get so into our own jobs that we don't really look at our kids. She's right, we do need to be passionate and to listen and to be more observant about the kids that we work with, because we can make a difference — a huge, powerful difference — in their lives." "

What big ideas will we uncover at next year's conference? Save the date for ISTE 2015 and find out!