Quite often I get the opportunity to speak to educators. I love discussing how to create dynamic, engaging learning environments for the kids they serve each day. I’ve had the honor of speaking to district leaders, campus administrators, classroom teachers and support staff, and everyone in between who help create these spaces for our youth. It is truly one of my favorite things to do. It ignites a fire deep within my soul.
The Palpable Force of Education: The Unique Power of Schools to Transform Lives and Communities
Every time I leave the presence of one of these audiences I’m left feeling a bit better about the state of the world. I’m reminded of the unique power that lies within the walls of our schools each day:
The power of the chance we get each day to help shift the trajectory of student’s lives in positive ways.
The power to create an environment where young people feel seen, heard, valued, and loved.
The power to draw out the unique genius that lies within each child.
The power to change communities for the better.
The power to facilitate learning that fosters critical thinking, inquiry, respectful dialogue, and a growth mindset.
The power to take the most broken and make them feel more whole.
The force that exists in our schools is palpable. And that force changed the course of my life. It’s why I do what I do. Each time I’m blessed with the opportunity to address educators I try to take a moment to draw back to their why.
Balancing Realism and Inspiration: The Role of “Remembering Your Why” in Navigating the Challenges of Education
I’ll stop here and say that I’m not a big fan of toxic positivity. Just telling educators to “remember their why” in the face of so much of the nonsense they face without taking meaningful action to address said nonsense, or providing practical tools to combat it, is not helpful. Quite the contrary. But I do believe that there are moments throughout our journey through this multifaceted profession that our ability to press pause and remember our why can be quite helpful in the moment. They sustain us through some of the passing challenges that come with walking through the schoolhouse doors each day.
This week I was reminded of my why in some very subtle ways.
The Importance of Mentors in Education: Reflections on Career Growth and Staying Hyper-Focused on Your Why
I had lunch with one of my amazing mentors, whose served as a district-level administrator in the area for some time. This is the same person who had a hand in encouraging me to pursue a doctorate in educational leadership nearly a decade ago when I was just beginning my administrative career. She saw something in me, then. And now, after all these years, here we are still discussing how on earth we’re going to solve the challenges facing public education.
It was great to hear her speak of her why that carried her through her career, to retirement, and continued advocacy post-retirement. Ultimately, it was her local public school that changed the course of her life. And that prompted her to dedicate her life to the service of young people. It’s great to have people you can call on to reset your focus. Especially at the speed at which life is coming at us these days. We need people to help us slow down, breathe, consider things that we may not have, otherwise, and remind us that, beyond the noise, lies your why – the reason you care so much about what you do.
The Power of Personal Connection: Building Relational Capacity with Students and Colleagues
Additionally, sometimes the reminders come directly from those you’ve been called to serve. For me, there is no greater gift than an affirmation from a former student or colleague who, in some way, I may have made the slightest difference. I live in the community that I’ve served for the last two decades and, rarely, does a week pass that I don’t have an encounter with an individual who falls into one of these categories.
It’s really quite amazing. It could be a student that I had in my first 9th grade World Geography class back in 2005 and I’ll still remember their name. That’s always been a critical component to building relational capacity with those I serve. I don’t just want to know everyone’s name by the end of the year or first semester. I want to know them in the first weeks of school. And I put intentional time and energy into that task. And not just knowing their name, but understanding how to pronounce their name; understanding unique things about the person beyond their name.
They May Forget What You Said, But They’ll Never Forget the Way You Made Them Feel
Every so often a meme goes around on social media about educators who’ve made an impact in students’ lives and I’ll have a former student tag me in it. This week, there was one that had a sticky not that read:
“Every Adult Remembers Their Favorite Teacher”
I felt honored that someone out there thought enough of me. I responded with my gratitude and expressed how proud I was of this particular student. And this was her response:
Similarly, another student chimed in:
Again, I expressed my gratitude for such kind thoughts, let her how honored I was to have been her teacher, and affirmed the light that she shined then, and now, as an adult.
– Yes, I’m at that age where I’m beginning to see that I could be in a school with children of former students – WOW! –
As I read these beautiful reflections I paused. I reflected on the thousands of students I’ve had the opportunity to serve over the course of the last two decades. My goal coming into the world of education was to help guide young people through some of the most difficult moments of their life, equipping them with skills, tools, and resources to learn and grow into the best versions of themselves. In a nutshell, that’s what a handful of teachers did for me. And that’s largely why I chose the profession.
Talk about watery eyes as I received those verbal flowers. It’s been years since I’ve crossed paths with these students, but I can remember their light, as well. Unquestionably, the feeling is reciprocated. My life has been so greatly enriched by the students I’ve served through the years. Although I was the “adult” in the space and had my own lived experiences, I learned so much from them. And I’m forever grateful for each of them.
Nurturing Your Passion: The Importance of Reconnecting with Your Why in Teaching
In such a scenario, remembering your purpose, the reason that compelled you to pursue this calling, serves as a guiding light. Reflection upon your why enables you to remain attuned to the aspects of the profession that offer contentment and gratification. By doing so, this helps stave off burnout and sustain your drive and passion for teaching throughout your journey.
Beyond these chance encounters, One way I reconnect with my why from time to time is to go through one of my “smile boxes”. If a student has ever taken the time to write me a kind note, draw me a picture, etc, it’s in one of these boxes. Every so often, when I may be feeling a bit down, I pull out one of these boxes. Each represents a different point along my career journey from teacher to administrator to educational consultant. While I may have opened that box feeling down, it doesn’t take long for those feelings of goodness to wash over me in a wave of positive emotions. If you don’t have a “smilebox”, I’d highly recommend having one. This small action will uplift your spirits and remind you of the difference you make each day. The why shines through crystal clear as you turn the pages.
Still A Ways to Go – But You Got This
By no means do I write this to say that I’m the world’s best educator. That’s a far stretch. I’m far from perfect. But one thing that has always been perfect and pure is my love for young people – my desire to make them feel seen, heard, valued, and loved, my desire to create spaces where they are free to be themselves…where they can learn, grow, and discover opportunities that they may have never known. And in a moment, this week, I was reminded by the people who matter most in this profession – the students.
In the end, it’s important to remember that teaching is a challenging profession. And it’s okay to feel burnt out or overwhelmed at times. It’s natural. And, really, that goes for any profession. However, reconnecting with your why can help you stay motivated and inspired, even during the darkest of days.