Walter Elias Disney’s wise words for teachers

Walt Disney was a leader in innovation and creativity. The principles he used to create his cartoons and theme parks can have a great impact on our classrooms, too. (Public domain photo / NASA)

Walt Disney was a leader in innovation and creativity. The principles he used to create his cartoons and theme parks can have a great impact on our classrooms, too. (Public domain photo / NASA)

A trip to Walt Disney World this summer for my family kept my three kids’ eyes wide open. They rode rides, met Mickey and Minnie and saw a lot of the sights that I saw when I visited as a child.

The trip was eye-opening for me, too. For one, it got me thinking about how I could transfer some of the Disney magic into my classroom. (That’s in addition, of course, to the thoughts I had before about what Disney movie “Frozen” can teach us about teaching and using technology.)

It also exposed me to some of Walt Disney’s wisdom when I least expected it: as we were passing areas under construction throughout the park.

The barriers that hid our view from the bulldozers and piles of dirt also displayed quotes by Disney. It seemed like a fitting place — where new attractions were being built — to talk about innovation and creativity.

Eventually, I got kind of obsessed with checking out all of these signs. I ended up taking pictures of several of them and actually got left behind a bit by my family from time to time.

Here are some of those quotes, straight from Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.:

disney quote 11. “You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them.”

This quote made me think of you and my blog — how I created this blog not necessarily because I knew exactly what you wanted but because I saw a vision for what I could produce for you. This thinking guides every decision I make about Ditch That Textbook.

It also made me think about the culture, the climate that we create in our classrooms. It made me think of the direction we take as teachers, as departments, as schools and school districts. As teachers, we have our favorite lessons and units.

Some content really lights our fire and other content really dumps a bucket of cold water on that fire. But in the end, this should really be our guiding principle: what do the people want? That means our students: what do they want to get out of school? It also means society in general: what do they want in graduates? These questions should guide what we do in the classroom constantly.

disney quote 22. “Everyone needs deadlines.”

This one especially rings true for me as a former newspaper reporter. When I was still in journalism, daily deadlines were the law. If you didn’t get a story filed by the deadline — which wasn’t even an option! — there was a gaping hole on a page of the newspaper that had to be filled.

In education, we need deadlines more than we think. Often, we read articles. We watch videos. We have thought-provoking discussions and we attend great conferences. We are full of inspiring ideas that can change the makeup of our classes and the course of our students’ futures.

But if we don’t set a deadline for ourselves, all of those ideas are trapped in our brains with no way of influencing the world around us. It’s like people with great potential — their potential is only worth something if they act on it.

disney quote 33. “I can never stand still. I must explore and experiment.”

I hope that I always feel this way about teaching. My wife has joked with me throughout my entire teaching career that I can’t just leave good enough alone. For several years, I was constantly writing and rewriting the curriculum for my Spanish classes. This often happened near the end of a school year. I knew I could put everything together over the summer and have it ready when school started in the fall.

These days, I’m finally feeling comfortable with the content I teach in my classes and the order and pacing I use for it. A certain degree of comfort is important so we’re not adding unnecessary stress to every moment of our work lives (and our home lives, too!).

Some comfort is OK. What I want to avoid forever is complacency. I like hearing people say they’re living in a “constant beta state,” referring to that trial period of a new business or product where they’re making changes and ironing out the kinks. Exploring and experimenting is just a fun way to live anyway, if you ask me.

disney quote 44. “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world … but it requires people to make the dream a reality.”

This is so true from a teacher’s perspective as well as from an administrator’s perspective.

They say that a school is only as good as its teachers, and there’s a lot of truth in that. A main role of a solid principal is to line the halls of his/her school with quality educators — the kind that will inspire, educate and motivate students.

But the same is true in classrooms, too: a classroom is at its best when students are at their best. As teachers, we can dream, create, design and build the best-looking classroom or the most innovative curriculum or the most creative use of technology. We can have brilliant minds with knowledge to impart. But without making that connection with students — without the people element — our great ideas will fall flat.

IMG_18025. “Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. Dreams are forever.”

When you’re a carpenter, everything looks like it needs a nail. And apparently, when you’re on a quest to find good Disney quotes, you find them everywhere. The girl wearing this one was working a food tent at the county fair and wasn’t too weirded out when I asked to take a picture of it.

If we’re not incorporating enough laughter, imagination and dreams into our lessons, then we’re not speaking our students’ language. In many ways, this is their language. They’re full of laughter, and they abound in imagination and dreams while they’re still school-aged. Their entire lives are ahead of them and anything is possible.

The great thing about being in education is that if we play our cards just right, some of that laughter, imagination and dreams — and the feeling that anything is possible — rubs off on us.

Which of these quotes spoke to you the most? What other quotes drive you as a teacher? Please share in a comment below!

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