Lessons from Mister Rogers


This weekend I saw “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” the documentary of Fred Rogers’ lessons given through his many years of work of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”.  If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it…and bring the tissues. After crying through most of the film and even after, I was talking with husband debriefing the film.  We both Loved it, with a capital “L”. Not just because of the nostalgia that we both felt as we grew up watching the show, but because of the life that Fred Rogers had and his passion for working with children.  He provided so many great lessons, and fought to the end to recognize the uniqueness of each child.

My husband and I had many takeaways.  I asked him what specifically he walked away with after the movie.  He said, “What are we going to do in the face of adversity since he is now gone?  Are we going to be the ones looked up to?” I thought this was poignant and very relevant as we are faced with so much adversity presently.  Fred Rogers’ was on television starting in 1954, and was educating children until 2001. The amount of adversity through change and conflict happening throughout that time was astounding. But he always stuck to his beliefs of loving yourself, being kind to everyone, no matter what.

My husband also said of the film that the message for all of us is to “be principled, be bold, see things for what they can be, not just what they are.”  There were several parts in the film that talked about Mister Rogers being bold with statements of acceptance of everyone. During the 1960s when black people where not allowed to swim in white pools, Mister Rogers invited a character on his show (Officer Clemmons) who is black to take off his shoes and put his feet in the pool with him.  There was a camera shot of two black feet and two white feet next to each other in a small kiddie pool. This simple action was bold, and he knew that by welcoming his neighbors like this would teach kids to do the same.


One takeaway from the film for me was to not lose the curiosity and outlook like a child. To always wonder how things work, wonder about feelings, and always ask questions. As a child is always taking in new information, they are trying to process meaning and feelings.  As adults, we sometimes forget to process the feelings. This is why it is important when we are learning we ask ourselves how we felt about an experience. From this takeaway, it made me think if we always ask our students to talk about their feelings.  We should be asking our students how they feel as to get them in the habit to own their feelings.

A foundational base of reflective learning is to name your feelings from an experience. Mister Rogers taught us that it was ok to say I am feeling a certain way about a situation. By saying them and recognizing the feeling you are having is a great step to learn why you are feeling the way you do about an experience.  Getting your feelings out helps you take on their meaning and managing them. Mister Rogers believed that “feelings are mentionable and manageable”.  He talked about that this way of thought helps address mental health service of our neighbors. And as we SA Pros know, the mental health of our students is one of the issues at the forefront of our thoughts.

During the film, there was a segment devoted to the time Mister Rogers spoke to the Nixon era Senate in 1969 to plead for the $20,000 request in the budget to save PBS (watch video).  His heartfelt words speaking about his philosophy of the “expression of care” toward children helped sway the Senate committee to approve the budget proposal. This segment got me thinking about the “expression of care” that we student affairs professionals provide to our students.  I thought back through my time with students and can remember when I did not give the care that I should have to certain students. Whether it be that I was too busy with administrative tasks, that I really didn’t know the student so I didn’t think to devote the time, or that I myself needed my own self-care and didn’t have the energy to devote to the student.

This reflection that I had has made me sad.  It has made me sad because I thought that I cared for all students and would do my best to provide the support that I could.  I pride myself on being a student advocate, speaking up for them whenever possible. I also pride myself on being that SA Pro that has the open door for any student to come and talk with me.  But for those times when I did not provide the “expression of care” for students I was betraying my own philosophy to be supportive. The act of experiencing this film has given me the prompt to reflect on my time working in student affairs and if I have stuck to my philosophy.

This documentary has given me all the feels, and I recommend that you engage with this film.  Think about how you are expressing your own feelings, naming them, giving them meaning. And think about how you are asking your students to do the same.  As we help prepare future leaders, we need to incorporate the teachings of Mister Rogers.


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