This time of year often brings out this question: “Am I making a difference?”
I often share lightheartedly that now is the time where we’ve shifted from a “We have so much of semester left” mindset to a “We have so much left to do in the semester” reality. As the days go by, to do lists fill up, testing rolls around, and if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves spending most of our time doing things that have noting to do with why we set out to become educators.
I know this happens because I’ve noticed this in myself. Earlier in the semester, I set out to start the day focused on the things that matter most to me. Before heading out to morning duty, I wrote out projects for the day that helped me focus on accomplishing two overall goals: “Create an environment where all staff and students feel safe and welcomed. Equip teachers to innovate in the classroom.”
That became the litmus test for the projects I could take on and the direction the flexible time in my schedule took. Often, that wasn’t an overwhelming amount of time, but when it did come along, I was focused on getting meaningful work done. And then, I got busy. I missed a day. Then I missed a couple of days. And before I knew it, I hadn’t written out that why statement in a couple of weeks.
It was not my favorite realization from this year.
Pursuit of what matters in education is an everyday exercise. Our momentum will carry us far less than we’d like, but the disciplined pursuit of excellence in this area can create lifelong change for ourselves and those we serve.
Before reading further, take a minute to write down why you believe in being an educator. Maybe it’s why you started out in this field. Maybe it’s something that’s changed over time. But think about this: Why are you still excited about doing this tough work? Tweet that out. Post it on Facebook. Put it somewhere where you and others will see it. We need that positive reinforcement and reminder about not just all the “what” we have to do. We need to see why we’re doing this. But don’t post it and forget it. In what you can control, relentlessly pursue the work that matters most to you. Don’t miss the opportunity to do something amazing before the school year ends.
I’ve yet to find the person who exclusively does what they are most passionate about in education. We all have responsibilities that feel more like work than others. Still, we need a plan (or at least I need a plan) to help stay on track during the busiest times of the year.
We cannot let our circumstances define our reality. Our purpose is bigger than our to do list.
So, I want to counteract that overwhelming feeling that can sometimes creep in on us. I know each of us have some nonnegotiables that simply have to be done. However, in the midst of what can feel like some pretty busy spring days, here are a few ideas to help keep us focused on our why.
1. Keep Getting to Know Your Students
Relationships are our focus in August, but we prioritize getting to know kids during the spring semester in a different way. By now, relationships have formed and we’re getting to enjoy the interactions with our students that only come after substantial time and energy has been invested. But as some relationships go deeper, who are we missing? Who are the students in the gaps? The ones that multiple teachers are thinking, “Someone else must have connected with him, right?” Who are the invisible students who have to be sought out? Write down a couple of students you can make a point of getting to know this week. Put reminders in your phone or somewhere you will see to make sure it happens.
2. Create a Collegial Connection
What do people expect from their interactions wth you at school? Where do you notice that you tend to stay surface level? With whom do you dive a little deeper relationally? Think through your routine and identify a couple of coworkers you can get to know better this week. I’m not asking you to do something terribly deep and vulnerable here. Maybe it’s striking up a conversation between you and a coworker who is not in your hallway/grade level/department (where isolation tends to settle in on many campuses). Maybe it’s checking in with a friend on another campus. In any case, intentionally connecting at any level reminds is that we are not alone in this work.
3. Make Someone’s Day
Think about someone who deserves something awesome in their day. Maybe it’s a student. A teacher who’s always serving others selflessly. Maybe it’s a staff member whose in a service role–a custodian or cafeteria worker. Think about what would make their day and find a way to make that happen. Maybe even rally a few people around to help celebrate this person. It doesn’t have to be complicated; even finding a student and asking them about a connection you have can make their day. Whether your random act of kindness is something ordinary or over the top, time and energy spent in the service of others is always well spent–even during the busiest times of the year.