How teachers can inspire and be inspired by teaching

My name is André Hedlund and I’m a teacher. But I’m not just a teacher. I’m an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher in the country that currently holds the 63rd position in science skills, 59th in reading, and 66th in mathematics according to OECD’s PISA survey. These numbers would alone be bad, considering that there are almost 200 sovereign nations in the world, however, they’re even more disastrous when we realize that only 70 nations were assessed. I live in Brazil and I am certainly not proud of my country’s current educational status. Now, if you are reading this, after you finish, take a few moments to check where your country stands and answer yourself the following question: “Am I proud of my country’s position?” If you’re not, I hope my text will help you find the strength to pursue your mission of changing that scenario. If you are, I hope my text will make you realize how much you can contribute to the world’s teaching community and help peers become transformation agents.

Let’s start with my story. I became an EFL teacher by accident in 2005. I was 19 years old and I was looking for a job. I saw an ad in the newspaper and went to an interview. I didn’t have any background in teaching, but, nevertheless I got the job. I have a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and I did one year and a half of a Political Science master’s course before I realized that was not what I wanted. I’ve had bad moments in my career, thought of giving up a couple of times, and in 2015 I embraced the fact that my mission was to be a teacher and teacher trainer. I knew I had some talent and I came to terms with the idea that I love my profession and that being a teacher is my life’s goal. I am now a Chevening Scholar at the end of my MSc Psychology of Education in Bristol (read about it here)

But being a teacher is a challenge. The biggest and most necessary of challenges. We teach, educate and connect our students to knowledge. Knowledge that they might not run across if it weren’t for us. And it is with this knowledge, no matter in which area, that we transform the world. Remember this and find the necessary motivation to continue transforming lives, which, in turn, transform the world. If you’re on the bottom of that OECD list, it means that, just like me, you’re not treated by the society and the government as you should. You’re not respected like teachers in Japan or Finland. That’s another reason to stay strong and keep fighting against adversity. You’re even more necessary.

Allow me to paraphrase an amazing author who, with a brilliant idea, love, and dedication, has transformed the world. In an epic speech, she said that she had failed in her personal, financial and love life on a scale that perhaps no one would experience. But her failures changed her focus to the only job that really mattered in her life: writing. And, after several rejections and prejudice, she became the author the world knows. Her name? J.K. Rowling.

I have “failed” – or at least haven’t completed things – on many levels of my life. However, my failures have also shown me the only possible path for me: education. I don’t intend to become a multi-millionaire as Harry Potter’s author, but I do intend to transform the world as much as or even more than she did. After all, J.K. Rowling was somebody’s student. And many somebodies were, are and will be my students. And I honestly hope that any sparkle from the knowledge I have shared, share and will share with them will be enough to make them as transformative as J.K. Rowling or, simply, transformative in their own way. Mine was, is and will always be teaching. As Malala Yousafzai  so brilliantly put:

“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world”


Become an agent of transformation in your community. How can you accomplish that? Well, I started reading about teaching and education. I traveled to different countries to interview experts and to do professional development. I started presenting at conferences and symposia. I met references in my area and became a member of Facebook groups. I started following inspiring educators and people who promote education such as Sir Ken Robinson, Ken Wilson, Jim Scrivener, Scott Thornbury, JK Rowling, among others, on social media and blogs. I designed professional development courses and masterclasses (check them out here), started a group on Facebook, a blog, and an Instagram account. I started a journal about my teaching and enrolled in online courses about teaching, ELT, education, and neuroscience.

And I’ve just got started. My next steps will be finishing my MSc, implementing a brain-research-based educational program in Brazil, starting a global initiative for education, and getting a PhD. I also want to become a TED Fellow.

My point is this: we’re living in an integrated world with nearly unlimited learning/teaching resources and we must take advantage of them. Implement the 21stCentury skills (or needed skills, as I prefer to call them) we want our students to use so much: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. Add Choice to the list.

If everyone sees education as a global mission and realizes their part in promoting it, we can create a movement that will knock down obstacles and inspire people to take action. And I truly believe we, English teachers of the world, are the ones with the necessary tools to make it happen. We don’t simply teach English, we teach an instrument of empowerment. A tool that enables our students to claim their global citizenship and communicate with different cultures. We teach people how to talk to other people and exchange experiences. Let’s do what we are teaching. Let us talk to teachers from different realities and learn from successful stories.

Regardless of being at the top of OECD’s list or the bottom, remember one thing: you could be the teacher who inspired Malala to fight for her right to education. Or maybe the teacher who motivated JK Rowling in her English literature classes. Or even, who knows, the teacher who made Sir Ken Robinson want to become an educator. Be inspired by your teaching. Be an inspiration to your students and be an inspiration to other teachers.

To help you get started, here’s my list:

  • 1) Embrace your mission. Realize that you play a vital role in education, no matter which area you work with. Teaching goes far beyond what happens inside our classrooms. Decide to be an agent of change.
  • 2) Teach, reflect, and research. Keep a journal and share with your colleagues and peers around the world, talk to them about best practices. Check out the latest literature on your area. Watch TED Talks, read blogs, attend webinars and conferences. Write and publish articles.
  • 3) Start a blog or a Facebook group/page. If you’ve been told by your colleagues that you have a gift, share it with the teaching community. Help identify teaching talents and convince them to start sharing as well.
  • 4) Educate everyone around you about education. Insist on the idea that it is through education that we become great and change the world.
  • 5) Get inspired. Watch the videos below:

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

Geoffrey Canada: Our failing schools. Enough is enough!

Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion

Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit: The power of passion and perseverance

Linda Cliatt-Wayman: How to fix a broken school? Lead fearlessly, love hard

Joe Ruhl: Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future 

The Finland Phenomenon: The Best Education System

Hopefully, with your help, I can take my country from the bottom of that list. And so can you, or at least help other people accomplish that. After all:

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. 

Nelson Mandela


Receive the link to watch this amazing MASTERCLASS with important tips on classroom strategies based on the Science of Learning. We'll talk about some of the best classroom strategies based on the Science of Learning suggested by 5 authors, a lot of research, and years of teaching experience. This is part of the dissertation I am writing at the University of Bristol. Things you will learn about (hopefully): -attention, memory; -emotions, mindsets, motivation; -methods, assessment;


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