11 inspirational Quotes for Educators (and Social Good)

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I love reading and collecting quotes that challenge my thinking and lend a new perspective to how I approach my work and interactions with others.  Someone recently asked me about inspirational quotes I’ve encountered so I decided to turn the compilation into a quick blog post.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes about serving others. They are great for educators, but also applicable to almost any occupation, or just our daily approach to navigating life.

I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized. – Haim G. Ginott

I believe this popular quote by Haim Ginott is an extremely poignant statement about the power of our words and actions to influence others. His words paint a vivid image of the harm we can inflict, or the hope we can provide to others. 

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.  – Desmond Tutu

We can always do something to make the world a better place. At my school, our third core value is that “doing little things can make a big difference.” We want our students to know that their positive actions (regardless of the perceived significance) make a matter.

Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This Emerson quote is such a convicting statement. How often have we been disappointed when others have behaved in a manner that does not reconcile with their words? How often have we been guilty of the same? The way we choose to act — the way we treat others — overshadows our spoken word.

Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win. – Jonathan Kozol

Successfully navigating life often involves wisely choosing our battles. In some instances you must make a decision and stand with conviction. In other situations it is best not to engage at all. 

When the world says, “Give up,” hope whispers, “Try it one more time.” – Author Unknown

Hope is the lynchpin of life. This quote emphasizes our critical responsibility to foster hope in those we serve. Many of the skills we attribute to success — perseverance, critical thinking, empathy, etc. — require a renewable source of hope. They way we treat others can provide a life line.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.  – Goethe

With this statement, Goethe makes a stand against the tyranny of the urgent. Time is our most finite resource and almost everyone can relate to the idea of being pulled in many directions. Understanding what is truly important, and investing our time in these things is a challenge, but a critical skill to develop.

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget he is someone today.  – Stacia Tauscher

Live in the now! As an educator, I want my students to understand that they matter now. They do not need to wait to “grow up” in order to make a difference. As adults, this quote reminds us to be present in the moment because what we do today is important.

Kids who think they are going somewhere behave differently than kids who believe they are going nowhere. – Pedro Noguera

This is another quote about hope. As educators, we owe EVERY student the opportunity to understand their infinite value and have confidence that their life is meaningful. For some kids, a trusted adult at school may be the only place they hear “they are going somewhere.”

Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in. – Alan Alda

Assumptions are dangerous. My belief is that we must always assume the best in others, however, this is much easier said than done. Taking the time to step back from our interactions and contemplate situations from the perspective of others helps us keep our “windows” clean. 

The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world. – Dr. Paul Farmer

ALL humans are infinitely valuable. If we treat others in a manner that implies they are anything less, we are doing our world a disservice. We have a long way to go on this one.

You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear. – Father Greg Boyle

Sometimes, you just have to be there for others — even when their actions or behaviors would beg a different response. It is not easy to “stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved,” but we need to recognize that these behaviors are often a cry for help. Sometimes others just need patience and empathy as they weather the storms of life.

Please — take a few moments to share a favorite quote about social good, service to others, or education in the comments. I would love to hear from you!

Free, but Priceless

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It is, perhaps, the most effective tool for positive change that we all possess. A limitless resource, yet we often ration as if it were a scarce commodity.Used at the right time, it has the power to be the difference between “I quit” and “I’ll keep trying.” The application of one or two words (or a simple gesture) can change the outlook of the next hour, an entire day, a week, or longer. It is a key element in the development of a growth mindset. It costs nothing but a few seconds.

Encouragement.

An underestimated, and underutilized, tool for social good. Be intentional about encouraging others. A few kind words, a compliment, or a timely smile can make all the difference — for both the receiver, and the giver.

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop

Boundless Compassion

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If you have a passion for working with the poor and the marginalized — or if you just want to develop a better understanding of the trauma of poverty — you must read Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Father Greg Boyle. 

In his book, Father Boyle chronicles his years of work with Los Angeles gang members. The stories he tells are eye opening, heart breaking, and hope restoring. I’m not sure that I have ever read another book that has so strongly resonated with my feelings about the human condition and our obligation to care for one another. 

If you are intrigued, take twenty minutes to watch this TED talk by Father Boyle. You won’t be disappointed.  (Be aware: there is a bit of profanity in the video)

There are two quotes in particular that I believe are absolutely critical statements about how we can begin to heal a very broken world.

First, begin treating every human being with respect for their infinite value (See A Simple Plan to Improve the World).

There is an idea that just might be at the root of all that is wrong in the world and the idea is this: that there just might be lives out there that are less than other lives. How do we stand against that idea?

Second, take time to get to know others

The truth is, human beings can’t demonize people they know.

If we can have even a small degree of the impact Father Boyle has had in his community — to be a difference maker for even one person — we will be on our way to making our world a better place. There is wisdom in his words.

Who? Me?

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If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. – Mother Teresa

In his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, Father Greg Boyle describes several individual interactions with young gang members who, when asked a direct question, respond with, “Who? Me?” At first glance, this is mildly amusing, since the only people in the room were Father Boyle and the person responding to the question.

However, Father Boyle writes that this response (Who? Me?) is an indication of a severe lack of self-esteem. An individual that feels so devalued and unimportant that they are unable to imagine a situation in which another human being would be interested in them. “The story of a self being made to feel to small from being bombarded with messages of shame and disgrace.”

I have witnessed, firsthand, young people who are so convinced by poor test scores, failing grades, and repeated messages that they are no better than their poor behavior that they have thrown in the towel on their future. As an educator, and a fellow human being, I believe one of my most important roles is to notice the individuals who are asking, “Who? Me?” — the empty vessels — and doing all that is within my power to fill them with an understanding of their value. 

It’s not a particularly challenging task, but one that requires intentional action. Call people by name, ask about their interests and passions, listen (don’t just hear) when they are talking, work to find and recognize their contributions (to their school, job, community, and/or world). Many of us are in a position to help replace messages of “shame and disgrace” with words of hope, grace, and encouragement. 

How will you make this happen In your daily life?

A Simple Plan to Improve the World

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All human beings have immeasurable value. Treat everyone you meet with this in mind.

It’s a pretty simple concept, but the execution can be extremely challenging. There are no exceptions to the rule of value. Infinite worth is not limited to those we agree with, people who are friendly to us, people who look like us, or those who behave the way we think they should behave. 

Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health has said that, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” You see, as fallible human beings, it is not our place to assign value to others, and there are simply not people who are expendable.

In person, on social media, or wherever we are brought into contact with others, perhaps the most significant thing we can do to improve our world is to treat others in a manner that acknowledges their worth. Behaving harshly, or speaking with hatred and venom when our values are challenged does not require skill. Demonstrating grace, patience, kindness, and respect in these difficult situations is likely the best way to remain grounded in our beliefs. 

Your actions speak so loudly, I can not hear what you are saying.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson