9 Defining Ways Educators Can Tug Education Back in the Right Direction

As I watched my field day team win one of the longest bouts of tug-of-war I've ever seen, I was reminded how forces combine to tug education in the wrong direction. It might be as subtle as a phrase or a bad habit permeating our profession.  This morning as I sat down to blog, opinions and rants poured from my heart onto the page about the forces tugging us in the wrong direction. We can pull back – add your voice but even better – add your actions. Education is a noble calling – lets do things worthy of that calling.

9 Defining Ways Educators Can Tug Education Back in the Right Direction

1. Take Time to Listen and Learn Every Week

Learn from intriguing people. Your energy and excitement is often in direct relation to the ideas you're bringing into your life. Teachers learn best from other teachers and educators from other educators.

Teachers must be a living model of lifelong learning. To do this, we have to carve out time to learn. Administrators and others should leave behind the misconception that a teacher should always be working. Sometimes they should be learning if they're going to be a great teacher. The best teachers are great learners.

we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Winston Churchill

Teaching is an incredible profession. But we must have the courage to speak about the forces that tug it in the wrong direction.

2. Ensure Professional Development (PD) Includes the Pedagogies Teachers Should Use

Our PD should be an engaging use of the pedagogies we are espousing in the classroom instead of lecture-only hypocrisy. If it works use it. If you lead PD, don't say you “don't have time” to use the best teaching methods because teachers won't either. Lack of time is a grand excuse – we all have the same amount. It is how you use your time that counts.

Teachers do as you do, not as you say. So, when you teach PD, model effective teaching practices. And teachers, be professionals and engage. When I am in a session and see teachers misbehaving, I could “snatch a knot” because teachers should know better and be there to learn.

3. Teachers (and Students) Need a Voice

First, include teachers in your panels and conferences! I'm done listening to condemnation-breathing guilt-inducing “thought leaders” who don't comprehend or understand today's teaching situation. I'm also sick and tired of panel discussions talking about teaching without one teacher on them. Thought leaders. Business leaders. Political leaders. Not one teacher. COME ON!!!! ENOUGH!! We are not idiot children who can't speak for ourselves.

There are hundreds of thousands of teachers who ARE making the change into the 21st Century who can share how transformation happens. Stop acting like 21st century learning hasn't arrived and we have to sit alone hypothesizing what it looks like. Many of us are there NOW. Include teachers who are doing it in the conversations.

Second, add diversity! With a profession that is 80% women, I'm also quite disgusted at the under-representation of women and minorities in conversations that should represent the diversity of the teachers and students we serve. We need more perspectives from a variety of backgrounds to move forward.

Third, most  staff meetings need a serious agenda-lift. Teacher led staff meetings are happening in innovative schools everywhere. Instead of the top-down approach let teachers take the lead on important issues – you might be  surprised. Most teachers will tell you that staff meetings are some of the biggest wastes of time at school. Don't read us the announcements – let teachers  read announcements before the meeting and talk about things that can improve the school!

Fourth, after you include teachers, turn to students and include them too. Stop talking about students and start talking with students – many poised, knowledgeable students are ready to contribute their voice. Student voice is part of an effective school (and conference.)


In education, the often unknown but influential “helpers” are those who plan our education conferences. Their choices of speakers are important.

4. Share Your Learning and Inspire Others

Educators who care, share. Take time to share your favorite books, internet radio, and resources to help inspire those around you.

First, share with your colleagues. Your peers don't need a consultant — THEY NEED YOU. If you're excited – you should be sharing.

Get over the fact that your sheer excitement will be offensive to teachers who exude complacency or crabbiness. I'm going to be excited even though my peers may not like it. My message to those teachers who get upset when other teachers get excited is to  stop worrying about others making you “look bad” and just make yourself look good by being engaged in your job.

Make copies of inspirational best practices and put them in the teacher's lounge boxes.  Share something new you've learned every day with someone. Include people who don't connect via social media.

Second and perhaps most importantly, at least once a week share something you've learned with students. In my classroom these conversations will start like this:

  • “I've been reading the book __ on __. I find ___ fascinating.' or
  • “When I learned ___ it blew me away (I'll show the article on the board if it is online). What do you think?

Then, encourage them to bring things in they've learned too. “Show and tell” should become “care enough to share.”

Let's be the lead learners in a society needing to see living examples of lifelong learning.

If you don't want anyone to find out, don't do it. Chinese Proverb

What you do when you are alone at your desk is important.


5. Be Fair Because You Care

Because we can't take everyone in the back room with us – we must do our best to avoid all appearances of favoritism, nepotism, and discrimination. Be fair to all children and respect their personal learning journey.

First, be fair with any bonus opportunities. If you give it to one, give it to all of them. Honor roll may mean to one kid what passing means to another.

Second, listen to all sides as you reconsider decisions. Beware of digging your trenches before you know you should be defending the land.  Integrity is best shown when we mess up. When ethical situations occur, students watch us carefully. Be as fair as possible because life's not.


6. When You Get a Spotlight, Grab a Mirror

Some love the spotlight. But remember that hundreds of thousands of incredible educators are doing a great job every single day without encouragement or thank you. Most of us would agree that introverted genius teachers are under-recognized.  So, we can spotlight more teachers in two ways: grab a mirror or make more light.

Grab a Mirror

To be inclusive, when you gain a spotlight by winning an award or being given the chance to speak– grab a mirror. Shine some  light on those who inspire and help you. Point out teachers who deserve it. Mention your favorite teacher when you're receiving recognition. Don't teachers deserve some credit?

Make More Light

Notably, today's social media gives us the opportunity to make more light. My Internet radio show, Every Classroom Matters is how I've made more light. I felt there was a need to have a short show that the average busy teacher could listen to on a ten minute break. Also, I wanted to feature teachers from all parts of the world including teachers not on social media.  Every Classroom Matters is my way of making more light.

You can do this too through your blog, status updates, Tweets, and Instagram or any way you share. Enlighten the world on your awesome profession. Be part of the movement to share great teaching.


7. Be Gracious But Keep Perspective

Here's a pet peeve. When award winners say

“I'm so humbled by ___”

No, you're not humbled – you're proud.

Being humbled is when a kid tells you three months later that she thought you didn't like her because of something you said back in January. Being humbled is when someone comes to observe your room and two of your students didn't take their ADD meds and are swinging from the fluorescent lights. Being humbled is realizing you've eaten in the lunchroom instead of packing your lunch and gained 10 pounds this month.

But being humbled is not winning an award. You're proud – AND YOU SHOULD BE.

"We rise by lifting others"

“A rising tide raises all ships.” We can be the tide. Our job as educators is to lift up others, even as we're being recognized.

So be proud. Don't pretend you're humbled. You're not. You're grateful and glad. Accept the award. Say thank you. Don't act like the teacher who doesn't deserve it. Would you see business leaders sheepishly holding their heads down accepting award for man of the year?

Spotlights give you a megaphone. Your profession needs you. Speak IMPORTANT words, not what all the puffy, happy people want you to say.

Why is the word “proud” a dirty word in education? There  is a difference between being proud and being prideful. If you are fortunate enough to win an award, choose your words to feature your profession and to speak for your profession. If you're the best,  use that moment to exalt our profession further. A rising tide raises all ships. Be the rising tide. And have pride in a job well done — and then get busy doing more.


8. Stop the Flattery: No Rock Stars

This past year, Mashable listed me as one of 10 Rockstar teachers on Twitter(I'm humbled…. uhm, no I'm not. It was exciting when I was sitting in the teacher's lounge and my Twitter stream told me.) I spend a lot of time curating and working to inspire others on Twitter and I'm honored and proud to be included but…

I AM TOTALLY NOT A ROCK STAR. I don't look good in leather pants. I'd rather be a heroine than take some. I'm after a higher calling and one that fills me with meaning and so are most of you.

Why do we need to slap labels on us to make us more important? Isn't a being called a teacher awesome enough?

Flattery can turn a helpful person into a know-it-all faster than rock star Eddie Van Halen's fingers move playing  Eruption.

People who think they are the center of the universe will watch opened mouth as it  implodes when they find that their universe and the real one barely intersect. Thank people for their work and service but let's ditch the “rock star” moniker. Flattery doesn't help anyone but can make incredible people less helpful.

A smooth sea never made a skillfull sailor.

“Stormy seas” made you a more skillful classroom navigator. Use problems as an opportunity to level up.

9. Level Up Every Day

Leveling up is a decision – a craving to be better, teach better, and learn better tomorrow than we did today. Yesterday's laurels will become stale – you need fresh ones every day to continue to excel at the art and craft of teaching. Teaching is active. It is something we do every day.

Most compelling evidence shows that joining or forming a professional learning community (PLC) is one of the most important things the committed educator can do. PLC's help us work towards weekly and daily improvement. It also requires us to admit we can improve.

Thank you precious teacher. Each of you (and your students) are incredibly unique AND IMPORTANT.

Your perspective is important! Share it.


Teach On

Our lives are but a blip in the heartbeat of history. But how we  use our blip is important. Teaching one of the few professions that will impact the future blips. Teaching is a noble calling.

I'm Grateful For You

Each one of you who reads this blog, shares on Twitter, or connects and comments here — you give far more to me than I could ever give you.

Publishers and conferences notice me because you noticed me first. You've told them about me via Twitter, email, or phone calls. I'm so grateful for you. Thank you for what all of you  do and share. Remember that sharing the work of other educators does make a difference like it has for me. When you reweet and reshare articles you're showing others that this is an important conversation to have.

You are the real rock stars of education because you are the rock solid people who help kids reach for the stars of their dreams. When forces tug our profession in the direction we don't want it to go, let's have the courage and perseverance to pull back. This fight is worth fighting because the future is at stake.

Call me a teacher.  That is reward enough.


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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Lisa Durff May 17, 2014 - 12:48 pm

Love that quote – education compared to a weapon to dig out of the holes we have dug for ourselves…………..

Norah Colvin May 18, 2014 - 2:33 am

This is a great post, Vicki. Thank you for sharing. I love the quote from Nelson Mandela with which you began the article. The list of 9 things we can do to pull education back in the right direction is great advice. I agree that it’s important we all support and lift each other up, not bemoan someone else’s success, but be the best you can. We must value each other for community support can sometimes seem as thin as the air, though it is just as important and valuable.

coolcatteacher May 18, 2014 - 7:23 am

Great words Norah and really that point isn’t made as clearly as it should be to be happy for others when they are recogniZed!!Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher

Elizabeth Peterson May 20, 2014 - 5:36 am

Nice post, Vicki. I’m so glad you mentioned number 7 about being humbled. It is a pet peeve of mine as well. If a teacher is recognized, it’s a proud moment for society. We need more of that!

coolcatteacher May 20, 2014 - 6:20 am

Here here Elizabeth! I just don’t hear business people do this — they’re proud. TEachers should be too! Thanks for echoing your sentiments!

Abby McWilliams May 21, 2014 - 3:12 pm

I really enjoyed your post Vicki. #9 really resonated with me in the fact that you may be doing something great, but is there something out there could be better? I recently joined a master’s program (DSM class), in which our second week is all about building our PLN. I am excited to read more of your posts about education! Thanks! -Abby McWilliams

aunttammie July 5, 2014 - 11:01 am

Love your point about misbehaving teachers! I always look for a front row seat at conferences because teachers are chattering to their friends thruout, and I can only hear if I’m in the front!

Dave Burgess July 6, 2014 - 12:01 pm

Wow!! Vicki, this is an amazing post! I absolutely love it. Thanks for everything you do to help educators “level up” consistently. You might not think you’re a rockstar…but you do rock!

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere