Professional Learning

The Lighthouse Effect: How Teachers Can Have an Extraordinary Impact on the World

4 Min Read
The Lighthouse Effect: How Teachers Can Have an Extraordinary Impact on the World

The Lighthouse Effect is the simple idea that each day—and each interaction within a day—presents an opportunity for us to be a lighthouse for another and to find one for ourselves. We have had the opportunity to speak to many audiences about the Lighthouse Effect principle, and for the two of us, there is no audience for whom this is more applicable than teachers.

Never has the teaching profession been more challenging. Each day seems to bring a new story about stress, burnout, coping with limited resources, or feeling undervalued. Combine that with being at the center of tense political discourse while trying to provide the best learning environment for students, and you can see why many teachers are asking hard questions about what the future holds.

These are serious challenges, and it would be difficult to overstate their impact on teachers, no matter the grade or subject. The good news is that there are ways in which we can address these complex issues. Part of the solution is for teachers to honor the work they do and engage in self-care to fortify themselves against the choppy waters surrounding them. We know that while self-care is important when dealing with the daily realities of trying environments, it is not, in and of itself, enough.

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That’s where the idea of a teacher lighthouse comes in. The physical structure of the lighthouse is a timeless architectural marvel that has been with us since ancient times and continues to endure in the modern era. We think the reason for this is that lighthouses represent the best qualities of humanity. Some examples of these qualities include:

  • Demonstrating Selflessness
  • Guiding Others Through Uncertainty
  • Being Constant and Consistent
  • Turning Doubts into Destinations
  • Seeing Possibilities over Circumstances
  • Having the Courage to Encourage
  • Embodying Innovation
  • Empowering and Inspiring Through Example
  • Exemplifying a Spirit of Resiliency
  • Seeing Beyond the Surface

These examples highlight the ways lighthouses, and many of the unsung heroes that surround us every day, show up in the world. For many of us, the first to awaken us to these values after our family members are those who teach us. We have had the opportunity to speak to many audiences and ask thousands of people to tell us who their “human lighthouses” have been, and somewhere on just about everyone’s list is a teacher. Not only do we remember our teachers, but we also know why they are so important to us. We are able to assign one of the qualities of the lighthouses to those who have impacted us the most. And as time moves on, they grow in significance for us as we realize that our life journey would have been completely different without them.

This is also true for both of us. For Steve, his teacher lighthouse was John Sykes, who opened his home and his heart to him when Steve was just sixteen years old. Up to that time, Steve had spent his entire life in difficult foster homes until John provided him with a safe harbor and saw him off to college. John turned Steve’s doubts into a destination and inspired him to do the same for others. For Carmen, it was Mrs. Faga, her fifth-grade teacher who guided her through uncertainty by seeing that her young pupil might be quietly going through a family crisis. Mrs. Faga’s persistence positively altered Carmen’s life, and since then, she has also made it her life mission to similarly bend the arc of other people’s lives.

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Teachers matter. They make a difference, and it would be impossible to quantify how impactful they have been to the students whose lives they’ve touched. One way that we can try to help teachers know that they are supported is to acknowledge them for their passion and commitment to the most honorable profession. That is what has inspired us to create the inaugural Lighthouse Awards in partnership with HMH. We wanted to recognize and uplift teachers who positively impact students, schools, and their communities.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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