It’s a universal experience: We all had teachers. We loved some of them and look back fondly, even decades later, on our time in their classrooms. Others? Well, maybe we’re just glad that we only had to spend one school year under their tutelage.

But one thing is certain: They all imparted lessons that shape our lives long beyond our time with them. We use some of those lessons all the time — ABCs, anyone? We navigate our daily lives supported by what we learned from teachers, from the curriculum based (How does that bill on the House floor become a law? Did I calculate an 18% tip correctly?) to the broader life lessons (Keep your hands to yourself! Know how to work well on a team, but also how to complete projects alone.)

Those classroom lessons help us steer our way through our professions, as well. As summer wanes on and back-to-school talk heats up everywhere, here are a few lessons gleaned from Dear Old Mrs. Smith and the countless other teachers of yesterday and today that can help us navigate our professions.

Organization is key …

Every great teacher has effective systems in place — processes and protocols that guide everything from how to tackle a complicated math problem to how to structure a persuasive essay or how to manage the complicated college application process.

In our roles as professional communicators and marketers, too, systems are not only helpful but downright essential. Do you have the right ones in place? Do you follow them? It can be easy to just do things the way we’ve always done them, especially if things for the most part work smoothly.

But maybe it’s time to take a look at how your department or team gets things done. Maybe your own approach to the work could use some shoring up. Teachers stay organized with everything from syllabi to lesson plans, seating charts and teaching modules — and countless other systems.

In the professional world, that may translate to more quarterly or annual strategic planning, a different time management system, an editorial roadmap that helps you plot communications goals against media priorities or a deep dive into how well your marketing or technology platforms actually align with your organizational goals.

Processes and protocols provide the daily structure and the long-term foundation for how we do business. You have to take a critical look at them once in a while and reshape them to stay on track.

… but don’t forget to embrace chaos

Let’s face it, change is always inevitable. You can have the best processes and protocols in place, but they won’t help you field everything that comes your way.

“Agile,” “nimble” — these words can be thrown around too easily in the workplace, yet when it comes to facing the inevitable unforeseen circumstances, many people freeze, freak out or just stick to their system even if it’s clearly not the right approach.

Any great teacher knows that, while organization is critical, flexibility can save the day. Kids get sick in the middle of a test. School districts or boards of education throw monkey wrenches into the best-laid-plans with new requirements, cutbacks or education philosophies. Snow days — or, let’s say, a global pandemic! — create learning gaps and expose weaknesses in the system.

In the workplace, too, rigid adherence to our plan can hurt us. Clients miss deadlines. Communications crises happen and change the course of our week, quarter or even our year. Printing presses break down. Reporters pop up with questions we didn’t want to answer. Our social media campaigns suddenly seem crass in the face of a public trend and have to be changed immediately. Speakers get sick and drop out the night before the big annual meeting. Sometimes, venue fires even break out right before an event we’ve spent months planning (yes, this has happened to us) and we have to scramble to right the ship.

Like an effective teacher, we have to have processes in place … and then always be ready to pivot.

Measure, adjust, measure, adjust

Classrooms aren’t the only place where report cards can be useful. You may call them by another name, but how is your department, your team, your organization measuring it? How are you measuring it? Do you have the right measurements in place to know … and to grow?

Of course, report cards are just one standard of measurement that teachers — and school systems — use to assess and adjust. Individual departments, schools, districts and states employ a whole host of ways to monitor student achievement, teacher effectiveness and districtwide performance.

In the workplace, are you employing the best systems and philosophies to measure your own performance, that of your team and the organization at large? Do they make sense in the context of the larger corporate mission and goals?

What are the relevant ways to measure, adjust, rinse and repeat on individual projects, long-term initiatives, day-to-day tasks and departmentwide goals? There are countless ways to measure and learn — quarterly reviews, media-tracking systems to assess an outreach campaign, Google analytics, metrics on social advertising, conversion rates on a marketing initiative and on and on.

We live in a world with endless data and amazing ways to measure performance. The trick is to approach it with a test-and-learn mindset worthy of the best teacher.

A classroom mentality

Perhaps the most valuable thing our best teachers gave us was the ability to continue learning. Their lessons — especially organization, flexibility and measurement — make a pretty great roadmap for the work world.