10 Best TED Talks of 2014 for Educators

TED Talks are a major source of inspiration for educators who need a morale boost, a discussion starter, or a new perspective. The year 2014 brought some of the best TED Talks for educators, but there are some not-to-be-missed talks from 2013 that still are highly relevant for educators today. Their messages are invaluable for educators who work tirelessly to inspire creativity, motivation, and determination in their students.

The Danger of Silence

Poet and teacher Clint Smith encourages viewers to speak up against ignorance and injustice. He begins with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” It is upon those words that he bases one of his classroom principles — tell your truth. This is the TED Talk that you should share with your students to show them that silence can be dangerous, and that their voices and opinions have value.

Why Lunch Ladies are Heroes

Children’s book author Jarrett Krosoczka focuses on lunch ladies in his graphic novels and his TED Talk. He points out that cafeteria workers often are disrespected despite the work they do to care for students, from reporting concerns to spearheading projects to feeding kids during summer breaks. Krosoczka reminds educators that one way to foster a culture of gratitude and thankfulness in schools is to begin with the lunch ladies. By doing so, you can create a more productive and positive atmosphere in your own school.

My Daughter, Malala

Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for advocating for girls’ education in Pakistan, and recently became the youngest Nobel Prize recipient in history. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, a Pakistani educator, explains that education gives girls in developing countries an identity and is equivalent to emancipation. He describes the power of Malala’s advocacy, and his message of not clipping her wings resonates with educators who understand that every child deserves access to an equal education. Yousafzai reminds educators of the value of their work and instills the power education can give to a child.

Embrace the Near Win

Art historian Sarah Lewis describes the moment she realized not every piece of art is a masterpiece, and relates the almost-failures and near-wins to success and motivation. She explains that success motivates us, but near-wins propel us further; for example, silver medalists are more motivated for their next competition than bronze medalists. This is an important lesson for educators. First, it reminds us that our students need to see the value in their mistakes. Second, it reminds us why we must encourage students to set short-term goals.

Success, Failure, and the Drive to Keep Creating

After facing six years of rejection, author Elizabeth Gilbert attained unimaginable success with her book, “Eat, Pray, Love.” Yet she felt just like she had as a failure. She explains that failure and success catapult us so far from our norm that we lose ourselves. The only way to handle success and failure is to get back to your home, the thing that you love so much that the results are inconsequential. Teachers today face more criticism and backlash than ever before, but with Gilbert’s advice, we can continue teaching with diligence. Our home is in the classroom, doing what we love.

Teach Teachers how to Create Magic

A veteran teacher, Christopher Emdin wants teachers to learn how to create magic to engage students and teach at the same time. He points out that teacher prep programs do not instruct in engaging ways, yet administrators expect teachers to engage students. Emdin advocates for teacher training programs to focus on basic engagement skills by allowing student teachers to visit places featuring engagement masters, from rap concerts, to Sunday services in black churches, to barber shops. The talk itself serves as a model of engaging instruction, and educators can immediately apply Emdin’s strategies in their own classrooms.

How Your “Working Memory” Makes Sense of the World

Educational psychologist Peter Doolittle’s humorous, insightful talk describes how important, yet limited, our working memory is. Working memory allows us to do things like store immediate experiences, pull information from long-term memory, and process knowledge for our current goals. People with high working memory capacity are effective storytellers, do well on standardized tests, and have high writing and reasoning abilities. While working memory has limited capacity, this video shows educators how they can use strategies to help students take in information and process it by allowing them to talk and write about their learning, practice using imagery, and structure their knowledge in an organized way.

Every Kid Needs a Champion

An educator for 40 years, Rita Pierson understands the importance of educators having faith in their students and connecting with them on a meaningful, personal level. With humor and passion, Pierson speaks from the heart and advocates for relationships between teachers and students. She says, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like” and offers personal examples of how creating relationships with students made her job rewarding and students’ achievements possible. This wildly popular TED Talk is one that no educator, practicing or retired, should miss, because it reminds us of the crucial role we play in our students’ lives.

How to Escape Education’s Death Valley

Sir Ken Robinson is well known for his humorous, yet insightful education talks. In this talk, he addresses the dropout rate and numbers of disengaged students in America. He highlights how current educational practices work against the three principles that are essential for the human mind to flourish, and clearly explains how successful systems support learning and teaching. Using a metaphor of a dormant “death valley,” Robinson advocates for a revolution to inspire true teaching and learning to help our educational system flourish. Educators will appreciate Robinson’s frank discussion and consider how they can get their students to flourish.

The Key to Success? Grit

Angela Lee Duckworth left a consulting job to teach seventh-grade math in a New York public school, and realized that IQ was not the top factor separating successful students from struggling ones. After leaving the classroom to pursue a psychology degree, Duckworth studied students in a range of settings and found that a factor called “grit” predicts success. Grit means having the stamina, passion, and perseverance to pursue long-term goals. For educators to build grit in students, they must foster a growth mindset in kids and teach them failure is not permanent. Rather, students need to learn from mistakes and keep moving forward. An essential lesson teachers should incorporate into their daily educational tasks.

TED Talks cover a multitude of education-related topics, and there are other talks available for educators and students to watch together that may change the way you teach and think.


  1. StartupCatchup

    November 22, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Brilliant list and I really recall the power of Gilbert’s speech. Her comment that “failure and success catapult us so far from our norm that we lose ourselves.” is incredibly powerful and a real eye-opener.

  2. malcolm london

    November 25, 2014 at 7:15 pm