Beyond The Classroom: Exceptional Educators


To be the best, you have to learn from the best! Excellence begins in the classroom—starting with the talented professionals who teach us everything they know (and make it look easy).

To find out what goes on behind the whiteboard, we spoke with Aveda educators and winners of the 2021 Aveda Educator Essay Contest, Jake Ivins, Anitra Parks and Michael Anthony Mercado.

What inspired you to teach in the beauty industry?

Jake: I have always had an appreciation for beauty and the arts. Giving someone the courage and space to evolve and create stays with you forever.

Anitra: While I was in school, I was coached by some of the best educators. They celebrated me and made me feel like I could do anything I set my mind to. I wanted to impact the lives of others the way they impacted mine. 

Michael: Prior to joining the Aveda Institute Network, I worked in a salon and began to assist the creative director in training and developing new talent. I recall the fulfillment I experienced when helping someone achieve an “aha!” moment during my afternoon spent with them. I immediately knew that I wanted to be a part of something bigger.


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What does being an exceptional educator mean to you?

J: I think it stems beyond the gift of knowledge. It’s about sharing your stories and experiences with the hope that they connect to the information on an emotional level. I also try to shift their mindset from becoming a student in the classroom to becoming a student of life. 

A: It’s showing passion for what you do. It’s connecting with students and making a difference in their lives. It’s creating a strong foundation in order to provide each student with what they need to succeed. It’s being able to accept the fact that you will not always be right. It’s being the master of simplification. It’s being approachable.

M: An exceptional educator removes ego from the equation. It’s tempting to be the one who knows it all, but when transferring knowledge, the student needs to be the center of attention.


What is the most challenging aspect of being an educator? The most rewarding?

J: Some days, you don’t always feel ready for the curtain to rise. There can be pressure to perform at times, and not all classes you host will be great. As I said in my original essay that won the contest, “This can sometimes be a thankless profession. Just remember that changing lives is no easy task—so be kind to yourself, and put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others”.

A: For me, the most challenging aspect of being an educator is speaking in front of large groups of people. However, I have gained so much confidence and it gets easier every time. 

The most rewarding aspects are those “aha!” moments and the times when students reach out to me after graduating to tell me that I’ve impacted their life or career in one way or another. It shows me what I’m capable of.

M: To be an Aveda Educator is to change the world. It’s my belief that when people feel good about themselves, they smile a bit more, they treat each other better, and a ripple effect is set in motion. Though it’s important to teach cutting techniques, color formulations, and state board preparations, my real job begins when I teach to make a difference. We have the power to change lives—and as an Aveda Educator, I strive to do just that.

Tell us about the 2021 Aveda Educator Essay Contest.

J: These last couple of years have been a scary mental, physical and emotional rollercoaster for everyone. However, fear cannot thrive in the presence of empathy—so in times of fear, remind yourself to lead and listen with empathy. You never know what someone may be going through, and no one wants to feel unheard.

When I won, I was shocked! I never thought I had a way with words, but I encourage all of my students to participate and share so I gave it my best. (To my students: See! Look what happens when you just go for it!) 

A: My essay included a reflection of my experiences as an educator and how it has impacted my life in such rewarding ways. Winning the contest means everything to me. It feels great to be recognized for doing something I love.

M: I was inspired by asking myself the question: “What would you go back and tell yourself at the beginning of your career?”. Sharing my history is an opportunity to influence others to grow and move in a positive direction. I love what I do and I absolutely love the Aveda brand. Being acknowledged for that encourages me to continue to do what I love.

Anitra Parks, Cosmetology Educator and Texture Coach at the Aveda Institute Birmingham.

Do you have any advice for students currently in school? How do they fully utilize their education & educators?

J: Everything has changed and will continue to change, especially those around you. Set boundaries and prioritize your art and education. Remember you are doing a new dance, and people may not know how to move around this amazing new you.

Stay curious. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—someone else probably has the same one. Don’t attach yourself to one educator. Every educator has a different set of tricks up their sleeve, and the educator you avoid may know your favorite new trick. Always let your educator know what’s going on if it will affect your learning.

M: Aveda Belief #7 says: Learning Never Ends. I always tell my students that the sooner they can adopt that philosophy, the sooner they will find themselves surrounded by success and opportunity. While in school, educators are there to guide you, support you, and catch you when you fall. Now is the time to challenge them professionally, dissect their thought processes and absorb every tool they have to share.

A: Being a student is a sacrifice—jump in with both feet. Be present. Ask questions. Be gentle with yourself. Remember that practice makes perfect. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, take risks and have fun. Stay punctual and always remain professional. 

Be open to constructive criticism from your educators and keep open communication. Remember, we are here for you.


Do you have any advice for Aveda Artists who wish to become Educators?

A: Make sure this is something that you are passionate about. You’re not only teaching techniques and skills that will be used in a salon, you are building confidence and self-esteem. You have to know how to adapt to all learning abilities. When a student can see and feel your passion, it pushes them to grow.

J: This is more than about sharing knowledge. It’s about empathetic leadership. It’s not an easy career, but it is truly the most fulfilling. So, do it! And if you decide to become an educator, allow yourself space and time to learn and grow as well.

M: Leave your ego at the door. Educate because you have so much passion and creativity, you’ll explode if you don’t share it. Educate because you love watching people improve. Educate because it’s what you were put on this planet to do. And get ready for the ride of your life.


Ready to start your journey at the Aveda Institute? Find out more here.


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