Woman looking at Ted Talk on her phone
Taylor Schlabach / Twenty20
Professional Learning

6 Must-Watch TEDx Talks to Kick Off the School Year

In less than 20 minutes each, these six TEDx Talks explore topics like chronic exhaustion, cultural identity, and emotional intelligence, among others.

August 6, 2021

Through a growing array of apps and platforms like TikTok, Twitter Spaces, and Clubhouse, educators are increasingly sharing their expertise on the ins and outs of teaching. Yet some of the old stalwarts still offer invaluable insights to improve your practice.

Since its creation in 2009, TEDx’s independently organized events continue to be a platform where people from all walks of life can learn and share wisdom on a variety of different topics with the world. Take a little time out of your busy schedule to check out the following six TEDx talks—all under 20 minutes in length—as you begin to wade into the waters of the new school year ahead.


The Real Reason Why We Are Tired and What to Do About It (9:34)

“Have you ever tried to fix your chronic lack of energy by getting more sleep, only to wake up still feeling exhausted?” asks Saundra Dalton-Smith, a board-certified internal medicine physician.

According to Dalton-Smith, it’s a common problem. People have historically oversimplified the concept of rest by incorrectly conflating it with sleep, she says, which has caused generations to be chronically exhausted and burned out. Educators are no exception.

Sleep is really only one of several different types of rest, explains Dalton-Smith, who breaks down the seven types of rest—mental, spiritual, emotional, social, sensory, creative, and physical—and identifies the signs you may notice if you’re lacking in one. In this increasingly digitized, fast-paced age, for example, frequent exposure to bright lights and computer or phone screens can lead to the need for sensory rest or a break from sensory stimulation—regular sleep won’t work.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution that doesn’t require drastic changes or a long vacation. Once you identify where you are using the most energy in your day, you can focus on replenishing those specific areas, says Dalton-Smith. In less than 10 minutes, she shares some quick strategies so that you can stop feeling perpetually tired and restore your energy levels.

Good Boundaries Free You (15:54)

Beyond food, sleep, and exercise, are there other factors to consider that can improve your self-care? In this TEDx Talk, therapist and author Sarri Gilman talks about ways to set boundaries that help create more balance in your life while improving your relationships.

“Your story is being shaped by what you are saying ‘yes’ to and what you are saying ‘no’ to,” says Gilman, who recalls times in her life when she was answering phone calls from work seven days a week or ignoring the signs that she was experiencing compassion fatigue. This all came to a head when she found herself crying hysterically under the cover of darkness in a movie theater. “I broke,” she says. “Something inside was trying to reach me.”

To help, Gilman challenges listeners to examine how an inability to set clear boundaries can lead to negative consequences and suggests a few smart strategies to free yourself from the burden of overextension.


Cultural Humility—Humbling Myself to Better Understand Others (16:49)

When certified diversity trainer and educator Juliana Mosley, PhD, was a senior in high school, she learned how to speak Mandarin Chinese. On a school trip to Chicago’s Chinatown, she and her classmates attempted to order her lunch using her newly acquired language skills. Mid-order, their server ran to the kitchen and brought the entire kitchen staff to the table; with a big smile, she asked Mosley to repeat it. This, Mosley says, was not only the first time they had seen a Black person speak Chinese but also her first personal foray with “cultural humility.”

Cultural competency—the ability to understand and respect the values and beliefs of people from other cultures—helps people to navigate cross-cultural interactions or relationships, she explains. It doesn’t, however, take into account a person’s experiences that may cause them to have prejudice, biases, or preconceived notions.

Cultural humility, on the other hand, aims to make the unconscious, conscious—incorporating your experiences, how you navigate the world, and how you view your identity into how you interact with others. Ultimately, the goal is to understand how someone’s culture can inform their beliefs, their habits, and the choices they make in life.

With an eye toward improving educational settings for all learners, Mosley tasks educators with looking at who they are, what they believe, and why—as well as how that can impact their relationships with students of different cultures.


Emotional Intelligence From a Teenage Perspective (13:34)

Everyone knows it’s not easy being a teenager. In this TEDx Talk, Maximilian Park shares his traumatic experience with rejection when he was a high school student, which caused him to disengage at school, struggle with his classwork, and sleep the pain away.

“When you feel like you’re drowning in loneliness and your emotions get the best of you, everyone just seems so far away,” says Park, now an adult, who believes he struggled acutely because he lacked emotional intelligence—something he was never taught in school.

A deeper understanding of emotions and healthy ways to respond to them, Park argues, can be a game changer in the lives of teenagers everywhere. He describes several school-related scenarios in his personal life and the lives of his peers that could have been less emotionally taxing, stressful, and debilitating if they had had access to regular emotional intelligence lessons.

How to Draw to Remember More (16:48)

Looking for a way to make the information you teach more memorable? Grab a pen and paper as author Graham Shaw leads you through a simple exercise to demonstrate the power of drawing and its impact on memory.

Drawing can work better than traditional note-taking because it allows the brain to process new information in a variety of different ways, says Shaw. When students were asked to draw what they had learned in a 2018 study, they were nearly twice as likely to recall that information over their peers who were asked just to write the same information down.

“The quality of the drawings didn’t appear to matter,” Shaw says. “People didn’t need to be artistically brilliant in order to create a drawing that stuck in their mind.”

The key to utilizing drawing as a memory-boosting tool, he explains, is to create a lasting impression by linking the pictures you draw to a meaning. Shaw suggests trying to “think in pictures.” For example, the word “innovation” might invoke the image of a spark or a light bulb, while a sketch of a tree might represent life, growth, or stability.


Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future (17:41)

In Joe Ruhl’s almost 40 years of teaching biology, he discovered that the most authentic learning and engagement in a classroom takes place only when students have access to the Five Cs: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, and choice—essential skills that children must learn to be successful.

When the Five Cs are incorporated effectively, the classroom is a student-centered environment—a place where an educator is more of a guide than a sage on the stage, says Ruhl. Using the Five Cs can involve small things like providing students with different ways to express their understanding of a concept, or larger-scale shifts like allowing students to have choice over the ways that they can learn.

In his own classroom, Ruhl created a menu of activities for each lesson unit that students can choose from. No matter the combination of activities or order they are completed in, students still achieve the required objectives.

By functioning as guides, Ruhl suggests, educators are freed up to use the most powerful teaching techniques they have to offer: their love and passion for the subject they teach and their love for the kids.

“What they’re going to remember is that you were transparent, and that you were real, and that you had the ability to laugh at yourself and laugh with them,” he says. “What the kids are going to remember most of all is you.” 

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