I woke up to this…

I just wanted to take a moment to tell you about your influence on my teaching career. I was at Valdosta State about 17 years ago. You observed me teaching a lesson on point of view, and I used the book The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. It was my first lesson I created and taught on my own. I had to ride with you to pick up your children in order to hear my feedback. You declared that my teaching was strong. Between those words you spoke and the ones you wrote (I kept it for years), they inspired me to be a great teacher. I’ve been teaching 16 years now. I love what I do. Thank you for the influence you have made on my life and others. Continue to do great things! Now, back to my search for youtube videos about technology, which is how I ran across your name.
~ LaNikah

Part of what motivates me everyday is legacy. I continually ask myself – what am I doing and saying each day that will make a lasting difference in someone’s life?

I have a strong desire to leave education and the world better than I found it. When my children, grandchildren and others look back over my life I want them to do so with an understanding that my intent was to leave them a legacy – to live my life in such a way that it can be admired and modeled. I want my students, both adults and children, to also be legacy minded; to consider the impact they are having now and on the generations that come after them.

So I ask you: What is your legacy?

I have been told that I am an optimist. I think of it more as a pursuit toward excellence. I’ve been told  that I push people hard – to be better, to not accept mediocrity – but please know I push myself harder still. Unfortunately, when you live your life thinking about legacy, it tends to ruffle feathers.

That certainly isn’t my intent – quite the opposite. Even as recently as last week I was told (in evaluations) that I was too intense. A fair statement — I am intense.

This is important work. I want those with whom I have the privilege to work to understand what is at stake here — the future.

Your future.

Your student’s future.

Your faculty’s future.

Those of us in education, like it or not, are in the business of self-actualization. Helping others realize their potential. Calling forth through the words we speak over those in our sphere of influence — a vision, mission and a calling. I am thankful for letters like I received above. I am thankful for being given the opportunity to be a part of developing life long passions in others.

The disconnect to creating legacy

I have been noticing lately how busy, connected lives create the tendency to give partial attention to ideas and cause one to treat individuals as units or learning objects, rather than precious individuals.  It has a dehumanizing effect. I am trying to understand how to be balanced and fully human, appreciating each person for who they are and for the experiences they bring to our conversations and work,  while at the same time remaining true to the urgency I feel to change education in large and meaningful ways in my lifetime.

My understanding lately has me doing some systems thinking about seeing individuals from a holistic perspective. A perspective that in my mind honors, rather than neutralizes, gender, race, circumstance, spirituality, physical presence, and professional well-being.

The aha moment

My second daughter Heidi has spent most of her adult life helping others. A few months back, she sent me her application letter for the Physician Assistant program, and I have to admit I teared up as I read over the perspectives she has of her childhood that have prepared her for pursuing her passion. As I read, I thought to myself this is part of the legacy I have given to my students, not just my own children. I am sharing a portion of the letter below…

As I sit here and reflect on my incredible journey through life, there are several key moments and experiences that stand out to me as being defining factors for my drive, focus and love for education, people and medicine.


My mother is my best friend and the most influential person in my life. Thanks to her, I was fortunate enough to have the advantage of being homeschooled through the seventh grade. This experience defined me as a student and a person. She took an active role in my education and found the perfect balance between teaching me and encouraging me to learn how to teach myself.


The curriculum was self-directed and passion based, but closely aligned with state standards. This gave me a very strong drive to succeed, tempered by integrity and a sophisticated sense of humor. As a result, I am resilient, adaptable, an independent thinker and a voracious reader.  I remember many hours happily spent absorbed in the worlds of great books. A large oak bookshelf in my mother’s home holds fond memories of my education. It shelves dozens of books tattered from many re-readings. They form an eclectic group: The Bible, Harry Potter, 1984, books my siblings and I wrote as children (that my mom had laminated and bound), C.S. Lewis, Practical C++ Programming, Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body, biographies of various scientists and artists mixed in with our favorite textbooks. Reading, followed by reflective writing which described and defended the ideas I found most powerful, helped to shape who I have become.


My affection for and exposure to science played a role as a strong motivator in my pursuit to be a Physician Assistant. I distinctly remember a sunny day during the 4th grade where we went outside and traced each others’ body outlines on large pieces of paper, and made life-sized 3D models of our “insides” to learn human anatomy and organ systems. I was captivated by the days we spent learning science and biology and gawked in amazement as I dissected numerous specimens throughout my elementary and secondary educational experiences. Reading back through my childhood journals, it is clear that even in my formative years I sensed I was made for medicine and “fixing” the human body.

Connecting legacy to the here and now

This morning I woke up and read a little Dewey.  I started to think about how important it is for us to make what kids do in our classrooms relevant to the now and not just what will happen in the future. I wondered, how legacy – which is tied to the future – influences our present or our now.

I was reminded of how our role as educators is wrapped around not only teaching content but building relationships. Relationships with our learners that gives us permission to speak the future into their lives.

Last night, in my Teaching Online course we were reflecting on knowledge building in online spaces. Darla, one of the teachers in the course, shared an a-ha moment for her. It became an a-ha moment for all of us.

“The goal of teaching should not be about becoming a facilitator of learning, rather it should be about becoming a partner in learning with your students.”

It is that partnership that opens doors to co-creating a glimpse of what could be in a student’s life.

Finding the Hero in You

For most of us, our most heroic acts are often done in private. As a result they do not bring fame or recognition. However, they do bring greatness.

Fame, I associate with those acts of kindness, sharing or goodness done in public or, in the connected world, in the network, acts which are done as much for oneself as for the receipient. You are sharing, but the result is visibility or recognition for you. It is very much about your own transparent learning with a focus on what you want to learn.

Whereas greatness comes from those acts of kindness, sharing or goodness done in more private spaces on behalf of others. Greatness tends to happen in community. The classroom community, our neighborhood community or the global communities of practice in which we live and to which we belong.

I have had lots of opportunities in public to receive praise and affirmation. I am visible in the network and speak around the world. But true greatness in my life comes from the small, private things I do for others. That is when I am creating a legacy. It is when I am doing things for others that I am most in touch with my superhero self.

Together, let’s move past radical talk to radical action. Let’s become heroes by being relentless in pursuing excellence, passions, and in leaving a legacy on behalf of those with whom we work, learn or influence. Let’s commit to being more intentional about becoming legacy minded in the acts we take with others.

Let’s collectively leave a legacy on behalf of the learners we serve.

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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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