What’s Your Why: A Reflection in Print

December disappeared awfully fast, but I can’t imagine there’s an educator on earth that wasn’t thrilled with the arrival of Winter Break.  And tonight, most are riding the fence of Can’t Wait to be Back! and Srsly? It’s Over Already?

I gave myself the opportunity to do a fair bit of reflection during this break, listening to audiobooks and podcasts to catch up on things I wanted to learn (and binge-watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” because she waited a long time to be watched).  One of the books I finished was Start with Why by Simon Sinek.  It was written for entrepreneurs and business owners to help them get back to why they started doing what they do…or to think about it before they start.  But there’s an awful lot in it that ties to education.

We get into education for a variety of reasons, and for most of us, “summers off” isn’t our Why.

It’s something to think about.  When we are asked what we do by others when we first meet, our response is our profession.  We categorize people by what they do in order to make sense of our world, right?

For me, the last 13 years my answer has been, “Oh, I’m a teacher.”  Depending on who I’m meeting, now it might be “I’m our Dean of Students” instead, though I know that at the heart of everything, I’m a teacher.  There’s a reason to codeswitch there.  Trust me.

No one ever asks “Why do you do what you do?”

It’s one of those missed opportunities.

One night sitting with friends at a brewery, we got to that “What do you do” conversation.  She brews beer and is a master gardener–and she enjoys both very much.  He works as well, and he was clear that the job he goes to isn’t what defines him– it allows him to do the things he loves–be outdoors, climb mountains, explore. He’s more than his job. I’ve thought about that conversation a lot in recent months.

Why do I do what I do?

I chose to teach in part so that I could keep learning.  I get bored if I’m not learning which is why those who tell me I should have never gone to college because I couldn’t afford it out of pocket are wrong–secretarial work, which is what I can do without thinking, would have killed me.

I chose to teach gifted kids because they’re complex beings who need teachers who get them…who understand that they’re more than what they produce.  They’re like the ocean–the depths of who they are as human beings is infinite and unseen.  They deserve to be seen…or at least leave us knowing we gave it a good shot.

I chose to host student teachers when I was in the classroom and coach teachers now because I love watching them work through the tough things kids throw at them–those unexpected moments where it all goes to hell–and reflecting with them afterward about what the nugget of success they could build on might be.  The happiness of a teacher who had a successful lesson is a beautiful thing to behold.

I choose to present at conferences and for small groups because the kids we serve deserve teachers who understand them–even if they only take away one tiny thing from a session, it matters.  The rain helps flowers grow one drop at a time.

I choose to do all of this work because, despite the fact that it’s the most difficult work I’ve ever done, it does bring me joy.  I like knowing that I might have had a hand in making a child’s experience in school be better than it would have been otherwise.  I like thinking that maybe a teacher would feel, as I did after so many conferences and sessions, that they had something to bring back to the classroom that was new or different–that might reach one kid, or maybe all of them.  I like thinking that maybe a conversation with a parent might offer a little support and relief…their child is a good egg overall, and while a situation may be frustrating, it’s just temporary and their child will grow from experiencing it…and so will they (which is great news for the younger children!)

But at the most basic level, my Why is pretty simple.  I do what I do so that others can go off into the world and do amazing things to make it a good place.

Some days that’s harder than others, but it’s always worth it.

(I won’t lie to you though and tell you that there’s not an element of selfish in all this.  I’d love for someone to request me as a speaker because they think I’m good enough and knowledgeable enough and because what I have to say matters.  I live for “Thank you, that helped!”  I appreciate it when someone tells me I’m a good writer…that’s where a big piece of my heart is and I’d like to do more of it honestly…  I think there has to be something more to our Why than the service aspect of it…)

So, what’s your Why?  Give it a good think in the coming weeks.  Write it down.  Discuss it over wine with a friend or someone you love.  Take a risk in the exploration of it.  It’s ok if it changes.  Change means you’re growing.




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