8 Tips & 50+ Education Quotes to Help Inspire Amazing Schools

I like quotes…even quotes that I don’t like. You don’t have to agree with a quote for it to help you think, imagine, wonder, reconsider, and look at things from a different perspective. And that is probably a good way to start this article, as many of the quotes in the following list challenge some of the established and dominant practices in modern education. You will not find a single quote about the importance of testing, the achievement gap, national standards, STEM education, teacher effectiveness, addressing grade inflation, school report cards, the good or evil of choice and charters, challenges to the value of a college degree, or the benefits (or drawbacks) to technology in education. What I’ve put together here are, as I see it, more fundamental, but ideas that really do have the potential to change our schools and learning organizations into truly transformation, inspiring communities. I’ve seen these quotes in action, embodied in the vision of educational innovators and visionaries, and it is a brilliant thing to witness.

Following are 50+ quotes and 8 tips that I wish I’d thought about more deeply in my earliest years in education, but I’m still grateful for having eventually discovered and embraced them. These seven tips now represent some of my most deeply held convictions about what I think schools could and should be. I’ll admit that I’ve yet to succeed in creating a learning environment like what is represented collectively in these tips. This it is one of my life’s pursuits, and I am inspired by visiting and learning from countless learning organizations that are well on their way. Perhaps you will join me in this pursuit. All are welcome.

1. Create learning spaces where play and fun are not bad words.

  • “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” – Thomas A. Edison
  • “The most effective kind of education is that a child should play among lovely things.” – Plato
  • “Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein
  • “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers
  • “Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age. Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.” – Dr. Seuss

2. Set aside a culture of grades and credentials for one that celebrates grand goals, achievement, and discovery.

  • “It’s not about charisma and personality, it’s about results and products and those very bedrock things that are why people at Apple and outside of Apple are getting more excited about the company and what Apple stands for and what its potential is to contribute to the industry.” – Steve Jobs
  • “Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.” – Albert Einstein
  • “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” – John Wooden
  • No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit. – Helen Keller
  • “Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of Assisi

3. Be a chief encouragement officer who persistently reminds learners that they are unique creations, full of potential.

  • “A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential.” – John Maxwell
  • “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”  -Buckminster Fuller
  • “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein
  • It doesn’t matter if you come from the inner city. People who fail in life are people who find lots of excuses. It’s never too late for a person to recognize that they have potential in themselves. – Ben Carson
  • “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” -Anne Frank

4. Nurture a learning community where imagination and creativity matter.

  • “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”- Albert Einstein
  • “Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.” – Martin Luther
  • “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. Michelangelo
  • “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club” – Jack London
  • “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Disney Co.

5. Create a learning space where mistakes, failed experiments and calculated risk-taking are celebrated as opportunities to learn.

  • “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein
  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
  • “I make more mistakes than anyone else I know, and sooner or later, I patent most of them.” – Thomas Edison
  • “The secret of life…is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” – Paulo Coelho
  • “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho
  • “Only those who will risk going too far can
  • “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.” – Marissa Mayer
  • “Don’t worry, be crappy. Revolutionary means you ship and then test… Lots of things made the first Mac in 1984 a piece of crap – but it was a revolutionary piece of crap.” Guy Kawasaki
  • “There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes” – Buckminster Fuller
  • “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford
  • “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” – Abraham Lincoln
  • “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Eliot

6. Remember that it is about the learning more than the teaching.

  • “Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”
    – John Holt
  • “We imagine a school in which students and teachers excitedly and joyfully stretch themselves to their limits in pursuit of projects built on their vision… not one that succeeds in making apathetic students satisfying minimal standards.” – Semour Papert
  • “The greatest sign of a success for a teacher, is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” – Maria Montessori
  • “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” – Paulo Freire
  • “I know of nothing more inspiring than that of making discoveries for one’s self. –  George Washington Carver
  • It was never factually true that young people learn to read or do arithmetic primarily by being taught these things. These things are learned, but not really taught at all. Over-teaching interferes with learning, although the few who survive it may well come to imagine it was by an act of teaching.” – John Taylor Gatto
  • “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler
  • “The philosopher wants to empower us while the expert wants to stand over us and make us dependent on him.” – John Holt
  • “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” – Robert Frost
  • “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” – Socrates

7. Celebrate questions.

  • “No one can teach, if by teaching we mean the transmission of knowledge, in any mechanical fashion, from one person to another. The most that can be done is that one person who is more knowledgeable than another can, by asking a series of questions, stimulate the other to think, and so cause him to learn for himself.” – Socrates
  • “Everything we know has its origins in questions.  Questions, we might say, are the principal intellectual instruments available to human beings.” – Neil Postman
  • “Once you have learned to ask questions—relevant and appropriate and substantial questions—you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you need to know.” – Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner
  • “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” – Albert Einstein

8. People have callings. Invite the students to discover, explore, and embrace them.

  • “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.” – Gustaf Wingren
  • “Where talents and the needs of the world cross, therein lies your vocation.” – Aristotle
  • “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Mordecai to Esther
  • “The maid who sweeps here kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” – Martin Luther
  • “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” – Frederick Buechner
  • “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” – Parker Palmer
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10 Quotes, Comments & Questions about Learning Experience Design

I love quotes. There is something about reflecting on a single sentence, comparing it to past experiences, conducting thought experiments about possible applications, and simply letting it help me look at familiar topics from a different perspective. In fact, over the years, I’ve challenged myself to take new ideas or lessons learned and turn each one into a single sentence, a sort of bumper sticker summary of the idea. It is a way to help me quickly remember a larger train of thought, but it is also a guide to help me further reflect upon or apply the concept. With that in mind, I offer these ten quotes about designing learning experiences. As you will see, a few of the quotes come from other people, but the others are examples of my attempt to summarize personal discoveries. Some are simple and straightforward. Of course, you’ll soon see these things for yourself. Enjoy!

  1. Could it be that pure face-to-face instruction will one day be considered educational malpractice? – paraphrase of Chris Dede at the 2007 Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning
  2. Distance education is a huge lecture hall with hundreds of students and minimal interaction. It is time for us to start measuring the quality of learning by more than labels like face-to-face, hybrid, or e-learning – paraphrase from a 2008 webinar with Darcy Hardy
  3. “In order to create an engaging learning experience, the role of instructor is optional, but the role of learner is essential.” – Bernard Bull
  4. “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” – Harold Wilson
  5. “…how many educators are able to keep the undivided attention of 5th graders for multiple hours straight without even a bathroom break? And yet video games manage to do it. As educators, we would be fools to ignore this phenomenon.” – Bernard Bull
  6. “All effective and engaging learning experiences provide frequent and meaningful feedback. Without feedback on whether one is getting closer to a goal, progress is unlikely.” – Bernard Bull
  7. “Give a person a six hundred page book on how to get out of a room with no doors and you’ll put them to sleep. Put a person in a room with no doors, have the walls gradually close in on them, give them the same book, and you have an engaging learning experience.” – Bernard Bull
  8. “Why do people fall asleep in class? It has nothing to do with how much sleep they got the night before, whether or not they are sick, or if they are hung over. The answer can be summed up in two words. Perceived meaninglessness. This is a key to designing engaging learning experiences.” – Bernard Bull (based upon a conversation with a student doing research on students falling asleep)
  9. “A key to the design of effective learning experiences comes from discovering the many answers to the following question. Why do students sometimes learn a ton from terrible instructors?” – Bernard Bull
  10. “When it comes to the design of effective learning experiences, one provocative question is worth a hundred proclamations.” – Bernard Bull
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