Four Steps to Defining Your Legacy as a Teacher

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By Theresa Staley

Of all the things you do in this life, make it your mission to leave a lasting imprint on your students that’s so bold, it defines your legacy and resonates well into the future.

But what exactly is a legacy and what does it have to do with education? Find a definition that works for you.

  • Why did you become an educator?
  • What breadcrumbs do you want to leave for each student to remember?
  • What social, emotional, or academic lessons do you hope they carry with them?
  • Have you consciously taken action to ensure, through your planning, activities, and student interactions, that this is the mark you want to leave for your students?

Here’s the Thing: It’s Not About You

It is about the opportunities you provide to help students conceptualize and echo their own greatness. Mirrored in the blueprints of instructional design throughout Robert J. Marzano’s Becoming a Reflective Teacher (2012) and Coaching Classrooms (2013), it is about YOU daring to be different so your students can make mistakes, figure them out, investigate their steps, analyze their miscues, and ultimately pronounce their own glee and awesomeness in their achievements.

These are the true hallmarks of trailblazing, legacy-leaving teaching practices.

“You have an enormous opportunity to change students’ lives.” — Michael D. Toth


Think About What Moves You and Act on it Intentionally

What are you passionate about? What attributes do you enjoy seeing in other people that you want to multiply in your students and become prominent in society? How will each student benefit by those intentional actions? In what ways might it improve humanity?

Do this in your planning. Make it come to life in your lessons, and allow the student evidence to reverberate proof of the transformation!

Share Your Story

Sharing your story is one of the most authentic and captivating things you can do to hook your students and activate their vision power. As mentioned in Identifying Critical Content (Senn, Rutherford, and Marzano, 2012), “Using Storytelling to Cue Critical Content” is a technique used by famous orators. It’s the most riveting and emotional manner in which we convey our passion for teaching, our grit for wanting them to learn, and the stamina we aspire for our students to model.

How might expressing your passion through storytelling motivate each student to learn?

Build a Following

Find others who share in your passion and vision. A teacher once said to her students, “The people you choose in your life should be a positive reflection of who you yearn to be.”

Do this in your school building. Model it in your classroom and throughout the school corridors, at after-school and extracurricular activities. Teach your students to find those who reflect their character and aspirations, choose them, and become gatekeepers with them. Demonstrate this as a teacher, colleague, and change advocate. Each student will mimic it in life.

Focus, Focus, Focus

There will always be naysayers who receive your actions in a less gratuitous manner or create roadblocks along the way. This could be someone in the school building, a hiccup you feel in a lesson delivery, or any other challenge that makes you second guess your endeavor.

That’s okay. You’ve laid the groundwork and planted the seeds. Sometimes, leaving a legacy can be tough work. Stay true to your moral compass and your vision for your students, and steer your ship toward the horizon!

Every day in every way, we have countless opportunities to leave our legacy and be game changers. Now, it’s your turn.