There was a buzz in the room at the Boston Foundation’s Sixth Annual Boston EdTalks when Sydney Chaffee took the microphone. The teacher from the Codman Academy Charter Public School recently became the first Massachusetts teacher to be named National Teacher of the year, and everyone was interested in what she had to share.

Her message was simple and humble.

“Great teaching, “she said. “is the process of stealing good ideas from smart people.”

At the annual Boston EdTalks event 14 chosen educators shared their ideas with their peers on how to improve education. What surprised me, as one of the only non-educators in the room, was how many of the ideas could be applied to any field.


Lindsey Minder, a second grade teacher from Codman Academy Charter Public School, talked about how she was close to becoming one of the 20 percent of teachers who leave the profession each year due to stress. Mindfulness helped both her and her students find their breath, literally. It made her young students more engaged and less emotionally impulsive. The simple act of taking time to slow their breathing down and being in the moment gave them peace. She played an audio clip from one of her students who talked about how the breathing exercises she learned in school made her feel better after a family argument.

Critical Theory

Another idea was about what English teacher Ariel Maloney from Cambridge Ringe and Latin called Critical Theory. She uses it to teach her students to apply different lenses to view the images they see in popular culture. For example, her students learn to notice the race, gender and age of people in stock photos commonly used in articles and advertisements. The people seen sitting around the table of a board meeting are usually male, older and white. The parent doing laundry is typically female. And when a gang member is shown, it’s usually a young male who is either African American or Hispanic.

Thinking outside the classroom

The first question many students ask on the first nice day of spring is, “Can we have class outside?” Two English teachers Josh Katzman and Seamus Foy are embracing that idea instead of rejecting it. They are creating Intrepid Academy at Hale Reservation, an outdoor semester-long program during which students have a majority of their classes outdoors. The program allows students to experience the benefits of active learning. They cited studies that have shown that 20 minutes of exercise makes students more focused and ready to learn. One study says outdoor activity is “miracle grow for the brain.” So the next time you are stuck on a problem at work, take a few minutes for a brisk walk outside and you could return in a better and more efficient frame of mind.

Don’t forget the basics

Sometimes in the rush to find answers to difficult question, such as how to improve education, it’s easy to forget the simplest answer can often be the right one. Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Jeffrey C. Riley reminded the audience of something he learned from his young daughter. What makes her love school are her teachers. Riley said good teachers matter more than jargon. He said schools should focus on their good teachers and look to them to lead and inspire their peers.

Sydney Chaffee was right. Good ideas are worth stealing. Educators have lessons to teach us all, not just the students in their classrooms if we are open and willing to listen to them.