(Originally posted on Leading Inspired.)

During a workshop a few years ago, it was shared that we, as educators, need to work smarter, not harder. I took this phrase to heart, because I always felt I was working so hard, spinning my wheels, and it was time for me to get smarter about the work I was doing with my students.


Flash forward to today, with reflection after reading Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, his passion for teaching seeping through every page, and I’m beginning to think this phrase does not hold true for me. It sounds great, but the reality is, educators are working smarter and harder than ever before. We are doing both, simultaneously, because as Burgess says, “This is a tough business…” We are aiming for this magic bullet that will make everything easier, but in reality, there are no easy ways to reach all kids so that they can be successful. It is hard work, persistent work, but work that is so rewarding in the end. It takes smart work, building upon various strategies, techniques, and using multiple tools in order to help those students be successful. It is not one more than the other. We are all working smarter and harder for our kids to be successful.

From an educator’s perspective, this is time and not pay. Teachers did not get into this profession for the pay. If they did, they chose the wrong career. There is time to develop plans, to create the learning activities, to attend professional development to better themselves, to meet with team members to solve the issues of the day. Time to collaborate with colleagues on the data results and manipulate the curriculum so that skills can be addressed again. It is challenge daily. It is more than 180 days a year and more than 8 hours a day. For the enthusiastic educator, time is worth it. Their student’s success is payment enough.

To passionate educators, our smarter and harder living is the ultimate reward. It is uplifting to watch a child figure out the sounds of a word and light up when they read it for the first time correctly. Or when a child figures out how to manipulate the problem to find the answer. Or when a student who often struggled walks across the stage to receive his diploma. These are the moments we live for. These are the moments that all the smart and hard work pays off. We do this for our students, not for us. I am not in this field for the time on the clock or any kind of awards or compliments. Our students’ success is our WHY we do what we do.


Here is the reality:

There are no shortcuts in our educational system. If there were, we would have found it by now. Teaching is hard. Change is hard. Teamwork is hard. Learning is hard. And we are all being smart about it. We are applying the best strategies and ideas we know in order to engage our students in authentic work and learning opportunities. We are working together today more than ever before, collaborating and sharing ideas and techniques to make our schools the best place we can for kids. It is “get in the trenches and get your hands dirty” work. Light bulbs turn on and rainbows appear when that smart and hard work has paid off for our students. Walt Disney said, “We work hard to do the best job possible.”

The negativity that resides within our education system is depending on the “work less and get the same or better results” attitude. But this isn’t going to happen. It is time to change the outlook of education to see ALL of the amazing benefits of this work. The best and most effective educators are those who work smart and hard all of the time. They are relentless in their pursuit to help kids. They are not taking the easy road, but the high road that is riddled with bumps and bruises. They are not afraid to take risks and make mistakes so that they may see their students flourish.

Furthermore, our students will work as hard and as smart as we do. Their tenacity will come through as we persist in our efforts to be more creative and collaborative, offering amazing learning opportunities for them. We cannot take a backseat or try to accomplish a task in a easier way and expect the same results from our students. They are watching all that we do. And so, it is important for us to lead by example, to model what we expect from our students. I know it is not easy. However, our students will prosper when we put forth the effort necessary.

To the new educators out there, please know this. Teaching and learning is hard work. And done with your smarts, your students will reap the rewards of your work. There are no easy solutions. But working smarter and harder together, we can change this arena for the betterment of all and our future generations will benefit.


I am proud to be an educator.

I am proud to be a teacher.

I am proud to be a learner.

I am proud to be a principal.

I am proud to be a lead learner.


Our students deserve our very best. They deserve our creativity, our ability to communicate effectively, and our collaborative efforts as a team to make the best opportunities for them so that they can be the future they want for themselves.


No more excuses.

No more complaining.


The work we do today will have lasting influence for those in our classrooms. There is so much good and amazing in education. The changes taking place and the passion found in educators around the world is contagious. Their influence is far-reaching beyond the walls of their schools. Their smarter and harder work shows. Our students’ success is the affirmation we receive to continue the smarter and harder work needed to build the schools our children deserve for their future.


“We’re skyrocketing forward into an educational landscape that is changing every day. In these exciting times, we must be ready to take on the challenge of redefining greatness for a whole new generation of teachers and students.” -Burgess, page 148, Teach Like a Pirate


Amy Heavin is the Principal / Lead Learner at Ryan Park Elementary School in Angola, Indiana. She shares her insights on her website, Leading Inspired. Follow Amy on Twitter at @AmyHeavin.