15 Inspiring TED Talks from Teachers and Educators

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Posted August 2015

Here are 15 of the most inspiring TED talks from teachers and educators, ranked according to the number of total views they received from a combination of outlets, including Ted.com and YouTube.

1. The Key to Success? Grit – Angela Lee Duckworth

April 2013


Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth left a demanding job in consulting to become a seventh grade public school math teacher. What she quickly learned is that IQ was not the only difference between her best and worst students. She believes what we need in education is a better understanding of students and learning from a motivational, psychological perspective. After teaching, she went back to grad school to complete her Ph.D. in psychology. In her research, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success – grit. “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she says. In this talk, she explains her theory of grit as the key to success.

2. How to Escape Education’s Death Valley – Sir Ken Robinson

April 2013


“Education is not a mechanical system, it’s a human system,” says author and educator Sir Ken Robinson. And he believes America’s system needs work. The dropout crisis is just the tip of the iceberg; what about the kids who are staying in school but are disengaged? In this enlightening talk, Robinson shares three principles on which human life flourishes and how they are contradicted by today’s culture of education. He believes kids prosper best with a broad curriculum, and real education must give equal weight to science, math, the arts, humanities, and physical education.

3. Every Kid Needs a Champion – Rita Pierson

April 2013


In her 40 years as a professional educator, Rita Pierson learned a lot. One of the most important things she learned is the extreme value and importance of human connection – building relationships with her students. Here she shares the amazing power of apology, positivity, and optimism. It’s a tough job, but “teaching and learning should bring joy,” she says. Listen up, teachers and educators: Be a champion to your kids and help them to be a better somebody.

4. Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education – Salman Khan

March 2011


Salman Khan is one smart guy. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, an M.Eng and B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, and a B.S. in mathematics from MIT. While working as a hedge fund analyst, he was tutoring his cousins and began posting videos to aid in their learning. He discovered just how helpful his videos were to his cousins and others, allowing people to study on their own time, at their own pace. What resulted is the Khan Academy, a non-profit organization with the mission of providing a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere. He believes teachers can use this technology to humanize the classroom.

5. The Danger of Silence – Clint Smith

July 2014


A PhD candidate at Harvard University and a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion, Clint Smith has four core principles posted in his classroom: read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, tell your truth. He tells his students his truth; he once gave up speaking for Lent, which led him to realize the danger of silence. In this poetic, riveting talk he asks, “Who needs a soapbox when all you’ve ever needed is your voice?”

6. A Girl Who Demanded School – Kakenya Ntaiya

October 2012


Many Americans take education for granted. It’s not the same for girls in the small village of Enoosaen, Kenya, where girls are brought up to be wives and mothers. Kakenya Ntaiya wanted to become a teacher and had to make an extreme deal with her father and negotiate with village elders to be able to attend high school and college. Now an educator and activist, Ntaiya tells her incredible story and how she returned home to build The Kakenya Center for Excellence, a boarding school for girls in her community.

7. Math Class Needs a Makeover – Dan Meyer

March 2010


High school math teacher Dan Meyer believes there is a huge problem in math education today. He says, “I teach high school math. I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it but is forced by law to buy it.” In this talk, Meyer gives 5 symptoms that we’re doing math reasoning wrong, including the eagerness for formula. We live in a world of quick fixes, but that’s not how we should be teaching math. He discusses the importance of formulating the problem and the need for more patient problem-solvers.

8. 3 Rules to Spark Learning – Ramsay Musallam

April 2013


After a life-threating heart condition, chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam translated advice from his surgeon into 3 simple rules for his classroom. In this “explosive” talk, Musallam shares these rules he uses in his lesson planning today. If teachers can leave behind their role as “disseminators of content” and instead become “cultivators of curiosity and inquiry,” they might just spark imagination and bring more meaning to the school day.

9. Teach Teachers how to Create Magic – Christopher Emdin

October 2013


What can teachers learn from master story-tellers or even great rap artists? According to longtime educator Christopher Emdin, they can learn magic. Teacher education covers theory and standards but not much about the basic skills – the magic – teachers need to engage students. Emdin is confident that magic can be taught and discusses transforming teacher education in order to teach teachers how to create it.

10. My Daughter, Malala – Ziauddin Yousafzai

March 2014


“In many patriarchal and tribal societies fathers are usually known by their sons, but I’m one of the few fathers who is known by his daughter, and I’m proud of it,” says education activist Ziauddin Yousafzai. His daughter, Malala, an education advocate in her own right, was shot in 2012 and later, at age 17, became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize recipient. In his talk, Yousafzai discusses his belief in education for emancipation and teaching his students – girls and boys – to unlearn lessons of obedience and honor, part of a “vicious cycle” that continues in many patriarchal and tribal societies.

11. Our Failing Schools. Enough is Enough! – Geoffrey Canada

May 2013


Times have changed but not in education. In an insightful and entertaining talk, education advocate Geoffrey Canada asks why we haven’t we allowed innovation to happen in our schools. “Our business has refused to use science,” he says. America is holding on to a one-size-fits-all business plan that doesn’t make sense. Canada advocates the need for starting kids earlier (pre-kindergarten), proper testing and evaluation, and providing support to kids. Above all, keep innovating.

12. How to Learn? From Mistakes – Diana Laufenberg

November 2010


From the one-room schoolhouse to encyclopedias to the Internet, access to information has come a long way. Social studies teacher Diana Laufenberg says we need to change the way we look at education. Rather than looking at school as the place students come to get information, it should be a place for experiential learning, embracing failure, and empowering student voices. “The things that kids will say when you ask them and take the time to listen is extraordinary,” says Laufenberg.

13. Kids, Take Charge – Kiran Bir Sethi

November 2009


Kiran Bir Sethi was infected with the “I can” bug when she was 17. When she founded the Riverside School in India, it became a lab to infect others and teach children to become aware, enabled, and empowered to change the world around them. “When children are empowered, not only do they do good, they do well.”

14. Hey Science Teachers — Make it Fun – Tyler DeWitt

November 2012


Science, don’t take yourself so seriously! In this engaging talk, high school science teacher Tyler DeWitt walks us through a horror story – about viruses and bacteria. He explains how he uses story-telling to help his students understand the “boring” textbook. He implores teachers to take science less seriously and to fight the “tyranny of precision.” There are a growing number of online resources that can help, including DeWitt’s own videos.

15. My Story, from Gangland Daughter to Star Teacher – Pearl Arredondo

April 2013


“Everyone has a story. Everyone has a struggle. And everyone needs help along the way.” Hoping to connect with her students, Pearl Arredondo shares these words and her story with her students. Growing up the daughter of a high-ranking gang member, she understands the need for a support network so that kids don’t become victims of their own circumstance.

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