Eric Cupp: Touching hearts, changing minds

This is the first in a series of seminar notes that I’m blogging: good talks I attended while at NAESP in San Antonio.

Before I begin this one, here are all four:

  1. Eric Cupp: touching hearts, changing minds
  2. Christine Todd Whitman: on leadership
  3. Jon Gordon: the energy addict
  4. Glenda Hatchett: a promise to keep

Eric’s seminar was one of the best ones at NAESP – maybe the best. He’s a product of divorce, abuse, and neglect … and the love of just one teacher who loved him, gave him opportunities, and made him believe there might be something he could do with his life.

Some of my notes from his session:

What he tells kids he works with in schools
“Why do you do the right thing? Because that’s who you are!”

On communication
You cannot not communicate.

On helping kids who need it the most
Kids who get attention are the top few and the bottom few … the top few because they’re successful and smart and popular, the bottom few because they’re always in trouble for something.

Kids who get missed are the tweeners … the kids in between. And yet, if you look at successful people in the world, most of them are in this tweener area: success in school does not reliably predict success in life.

So: how do you help the tweeners?

  1. Meaningful touch
    Unloved and unpopular kids don’t get touched. Researchers studied what happened to people who didn’t get touched – looked at Vietnam war prisoners in the Hanoi Hilton. If you’re not touched for weeks and months, you start to feel you’re a dream. You doubt your reality. You doubt your validity. (My note: maybe this is why so many street people go a little crazy and start talking to themselves … who touches them?) So: appropriate and meaningful touch is important, even in this day of sickos and a resultant over-reaction.

  2. Spoken message
    Eric was talking to a class that was being plagued by disruptive kids, and he wanted to get positive peer pressure to help fix it. So he held up a $20 bill and asked kids, if it was theirs, and someone stole it, what they would do to get it back. Responses escalated from getting friends to help them, to teachers, to principals, to their parents. But they wanted it back.

    So, he said: these people who are disrupting the class are stealing from you to. What do you think is the difference in lifetime income between people who graduate from high school and those who don’t? $250,000. They’re stealing a quarter of a million dollars from you. What are you going to do about it?

  3. Honor
    Honor is wanting to know your world more than my own. It’s valuing you and what you think and what you like and what you’re interested in more that myself, and what I think and what I like and what I’m interested in. Honoring people – truly honoring people – is something you can’t pretend, but when you really do it, makes a huge difference in your relationships

  4. Picturing a special future
    The one thing that gets people through tough situations is hope. Hope is a candle on the far side of a dark cave, that can get people through a day, a year, a decade which they know is going to be tough. Picturing a special future is saying: “Wow, you’re great at singing. I think people will pay to hear you sing someday.” Or, “you really paint well. I think you could get a job as a graphic artist.”

  5. Active commitment
    Active commitment is sticking with people who need help. It’s actually doing something tangible. Eric told the story of a 16-year old girl who, only a few years ago, had never been to a mall. Never gotten any new clothes. Was dropped off by her mother at her grandmother’s home. Was hated by her grandmother. Was teased unmercifully at school.

    He took her to a store and they went clothes shopping – for the first time in her life. And she knew, maybe also for the first time in her life, that someone cared, that there was the possibility for a better future, that there was hope.

Great seminar. Eric speaks at schools all over the US and I highly recommend him.


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