Skilled Teachers Regularly Reflect on Their Influence


My Educational Leadership article suggests eight things skilled teachers can think, say, and do. I used the adjective “skilled” because it comes from the Old Norse word skil, meaning “power of discernment.” Using the power of discernment, I believe, is a key quality to navigate the nuances present in any classroom, including successfully engaging challenging students.

(Download the mini poster, “Eight Great Ways Teachers Can Reach Students.”)

Today I’d like to share a bonus—an “extra” recommendation about what skilled teachers can think:

Reflecting (often) on what kind of legacy we want to leave.

Henry Adams wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” I am not embarrassed to say that I want to be remembered by my students—and not primarily for the facts they learn in our classroom. I want to be remembered for instilling a love of learning, encouraging a sense of ambition in what they strive for, modeling fairness, respecting justice, and railing against injustice. Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said . . . but never forget how you made them feel.”

A fellow educator recently told me about a former student who dropped out of school. Years later, they reconnected, and the student told him that though he didn’t listen to the teacher’s advice at the time, he was committed to ensuring his own children didn’t make the same mistake. His four children are all in college now.

We really can’t ever tell where our influence stops. It’s a serious responsibility worthy of regular reflection.

What are your suggestions for what skilled teachers should think, say, and do?

Larry Ferlazzo teaches at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He writes a popular blog and a weekly teacher advice column for Education Week Teacher, as well as having authored four books on education.