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10 Remarkable Lessons From an Unconventional School Teacher

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Image Credit: Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell is the founder of The Freedom Writers Foundation, created to inspire and show young people a better way of life. An educator by profession, she has worked with high school students and inspired change through her unique teaching methods.

The movie Freedom Writers is based on her teaching experience that led to the creation of the Freedom Writers Foundation. It’s an inspirational movie about how 150 students turned their lives around, who today are inspiring others to do the same.

Here are 10 practical lessons from the movie that can change your own life:

1. Be relevant

The education system worldwide is a broken one and most of what is taught doesn’t add value to students’ lives. In some ways, it’s designed to create slaves of its recipients that never learn to think for themselves. Only when Erin Gruwell connected with her students at Woodrow Wilson at a deeper level, was she able to make a difference. 

By altering her curriculum and teaching what they could relate to, she finally got their attention and made an impact. Her students came alive and started to view their lives and situations in a more positive light.

2. Writing is therapeutic

The common factors among Erin’s students were emotional pain and insecurity that was often expressed through violence and hatred. Gang violence was a way of life in Long Beach California during those times between different races. Such a life felt hopeless for the young people who saw no bright future for themselves.

This was compounded by seeing their friends getting killed through gang violence. Erin came up with an idea for her students to journal whatever they were feeling. She got them journals and as they wrote, it became a healing experience that helped them see things differently.

“I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities, you can change the world.” – Erin Gruwell

3. Life isn’t just about money

It’s a deception that success in life is mainly about making a lot of money and living a flashy lifestyle. Most people spend most of their lives chasing after that dream but find it doesn’t bring lasting happiness. Erin’s dad had wanted her to take up a better-paying career instead of teaching which he felt was too menial for her.

Real success has to do with adding value and making a difference in other people’s lives. If you do it right and consistently, avenues to make money and have a better lifestyle will open up. Today Erin runs The Freedom Writers Foundation which empowers other teachers to make a difference in their students’ lives. Her track record has awarded her various opportunities to share her story through various platforms.

4. Balance is important

Given the impact she has made all these years, it’s easy to tell that she loves teaching. The sad part about her story is that her success came at the expense of her marriage. Her husband often felt neglected because Erin spent most of her time with her students, forgetting to make time for him too.

Success isn’t worth it if you can’t share it with those closest to you. It’s often a challenge for highly motivated people to strike a balance but it must be done intentionally nonetheless. They may not have been a good match but divorce, however, is never pretty. Maybe she could have struck a balance between her husband and work and still be married today.

5. Believe in your dream

The most powerful dreams often don’t make sense before they become a reality. Erin’s motivation for taking up the teaching job at Woodrow Wilson High School was the integration program. Most of the teachers felt it was a lie and impossible to achieve due to all the gang violence.

Erin went the extra mile many times to break new ground and show her students what was possible. Your God-given dreams only make sense to you until you show others that they can be real. You therefore shouldn’t get discouraged if people misunderstand you.

6. Turn negatives into positives

The painful experiences of Erin’s students culminated in them publishing The Freedom Writers Diary, a compilation of their journals. Having read the book myself, it was painful just reading about what they went through as young people. On the bright side, myself and others who read it, got inspired to overcome the obstacles in our own lives.

The sales from their book were channeled towards funding their college education after graduating high school. It goes to show that even your mistakes can be used for something positive. Those same students went on to work with Erin in the Freedom Writers Foundation to share their message with students around the country.

7. Lack of experience doesn’t have to stop you

Erin’s designation at Woodrow Wilson was her first teaching job and she only spent four years there. She accomplished a lot more than other teachers who had been there for decades. Experience certainly helps but doesn’t have to be the only thing that qualifies you to take on big assignments.

Learn from those in your field but don’t use their success as a measure for what you can accomplish. You’re unique and that means you can do certain things in ways that others can’t. Bring your flavor to the table and see the beautiful things that you can create.

8. There’s more that unites us than divides us

Despite their cultural differences, Erin’s students came to realize that they were the same at the core. The hatred they had towards each other blinded them to this truth for a long time until they let it go. It took Erin’s guidance to help them see that and foster a sense of unity among them.

The more united people become, the more they can accomplish together. On a personal level, think about the people you somewhat despise and choose to see their positive side. The differences serve to help you see things from a different perspective while working towards a common goal.

“Be the kind of people that have enough passion to change the world. If we let ourselves be fire, thunder, or lightning, we could alter everything.” – Erin Gruwell

9. Potential is immeasurable

I doubt that Erin could have imagined what she would accomplish with her students that society had written off. For a long time, it was always expected that most students would never graduate; either because they’d give up or die through gang violence. All of Erin’s students went on to graduate from high school which was a tremendous achievement. In the same way, you can’t predict what you can accomplish until you step out in faith and pursue your God-given dreams. 

10. Be true to yourself

At the end of the day, Erin Gruwell lives a fulfilling life because she’s pursued what she was created for. God has a great plan for your life and even if it doesn’t always make sense, believe in it. You sell yourself short when you allow other people to create your life for you, and it brings regrets.

Sija Mafu is an Online Enthusiast and Personal Development Fan. His vision is to see young people take responsibility for their lives and create bright futures for themselves, their families and society at large. He runs the Motivated2Inspire blog to inspire young people to pursue their life purpose. Also check out his free training courses to set you up for a life of success.

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Knowing Your Message vs Delivering Your Message

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Have you ever sent a text message only to have it misinterpreted by the person reading it? Happens all the time. Have you ever given a presentation that you were totally prepared for only to have it fall flat? Happens all the time. Have you ever had someone ask you something like, “Why are you mad?” when you were not at all mad? Happens all the time. (more…)

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The 3 Most Important Things I Learned About Personal Growth

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When you look back on your life, what do you want to think about? Do you plan to reminisce on all of the good things that have happened and how they shaped who you are today? Or would you rather remember all of the bad decisions, challenging experiences, and mistakes made that hurt or wasted a portion of your life?

In my opinion, I think it is important to reflect on both. While it’s important to remember the hardships we’ve been through in our lives – without them we wouldn’t be where we are now. There are 3 very specific areas that I feel have helped me grow in a personal sense more than anything else in my life so far. 

These aren’t simple lessons in a book or a lecture that you can just absorb and apply to your life. These are things that I’ve learned through experience and reflection, and I’m still learning and growing today.

1. We determine how much we’re worth by what we think about ourselves, others, and life in general.

This might seem like a pretty obvious lesson in life but it’s actually one of the most important because we can determine our own worth by how we think about ourselves and the world around us. If you’re looking for success in any kind of business or social setting (dating), then I’ll tell you right now that it doesn’t matter if you have 10 billion dollars or not – people are still going to judge you based on your thoughts and beliefs alone.

What determines our value isn’t necessarily what we do with our lives (which is often based on luck) but whether or not we believe that ‘our work’ is worthy or not in some sort of grand scheme or universe. We may not always be able to control what happens in our lives, but we can always control how we value ourselves and others.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

2. You don’t have to change your habits or personality just because someone else doesn’t like it – their opinions are THEIRS alone.

This is another one of those lessons that people tend to pick up on a little bit late in life, but if anything that makes its importance even worse! Basically, there’s going to come a time when you’re going to meet someone who has certain expectations of you as a person…but these expectations might not be realistic due to their motivations and personal beliefs. For example, sometimes parents might expect you to be a lawyer or doctor because that’s what they believe is best for their child.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone and so maybe your passion lies in music or writing novels. In this example, if you were also pressured into becoming a doctor – then there would obviously be some kind of conflict going on within yourself as a person. You should never have to give up something that you want to do just because someone else doesn’t like it! The reason why we’re put onto this Earth is to make our own choices and go after our OWN dreams instead of letting others determine what we can and cannot do with our lives .

3. You can’t change your life until you accept that you need to make a change.

When I was younger, I thought that this lesson would be pretty obvious – but as I got older, it really made me appreciate the fact that there are always different ways of perceiving our lives. For example, if someone wants to become rich and famous one day – their mind might simply overshadow any other possibility in their head because they feel like this is what they NEED to do right now.

However, this isn’t always true within our own lives because we think about things too literally instead of having an open mind. If you want to achieve success in any kind of business or social setting (dating) then you should be willing to try out different things instead of staying in your comfort zone. If you want something, then it’s up to YOU to actually go after it – nobody else is going to give it to you!

The three lessons above are some of the main things I want to pass on to everyone because they’ve come at an important time in my life where I need to start thinking about others instead of only myself. It’s great if we can learn to love ourselves first before anything else, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect everyone around you even though they might be your friends and family members!

If you enjoyed this article on the 3 most important things I learned about personal growth, then please share it with your friends and family! Also, check out my other articles on success & motivation as well as life lessons that could help people who are struggling with their life right now on lifengoal.com. Thanks for reading!

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​​4 Boss Level Growth Strategies That Create an Optimized Life

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Building a business is about more than sales, marketing, and flexing on social media. While those things tend to draw attention, they attract the wrong type of clients and are not how you build a sustainable and freedom-focused business. (more…)

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Life

Practicing Self-Devotion: 3 Ways Towards a More Mindful and Compassionate You

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I can still hear the voices of my older relatives and my elementary school teachers telling me “be disciplined”, “keep at it”, to give time and energy towards what we want. As a young, impressionable child, I believed all those things because well, they made sense. They worked. And honestly, I felt like it’s the only way to flourish. (more…)

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