What is your WHY?
I just returned from my second AVID Summer Institute where the question of “what is your why” centered much of my work. For those who haven’t heard of Simon Sinek’s WHY, it’s well worth your time to check out his full TEDxPugetSound talk on “how great leaders inspire action”. The gist is that too often we center our work and initial efforts into the WHAT will we sell/teach/create and HOW we are better than the others. However, if we look to our greatest examples of companies and people who are inspiring and successful, they actually are focusing on WHY they exist. This WHY drives HOW they will accomplish their WHY and the WHAT is a byproduct.
As a teacher leader, it’s important that you define your WHY early and you revisit your WHY often, especially when redefining your career goals or discussing new leadership. If you have your WHY defined, it becomes that much easier to say no to teacher leadership positions that don’t fit your goals.
I believe that the teaching profession is notorious for creating the overworked, over-extended leaders within a building. Nowhere in my teacher prep (and I contend that my teacher prep program was an outstanding one) did we discuss how we will grow as leaders, how to decide what opportunities to take on, and how to prioritize our personal career goals and reason for being an educator. It’s just so easy for systems to begin to rely on the same individuals and teachers and teachers often have a personality that will say YES for the good of the students, the building, the system.
Define Your WHY
- Start with the question of “Why are you in the business of Education?” Spend 10-20 minutes in a quiet, non-distracting space to truly delve into this question. Write your thoughts down. To be really on point, invest in a digital space or a physical notebook that will capture your WHYs as you reflect throughout your career.
- Create your Elevator Speech. It’s great that you know your why, but it’s equally important for those around you to know your why. This is the speech that sums up your WHY in around 30 seconds. Like Tess McGill in Working Girl (spoiler alert), there are moments when we only have the amount of time it takes to go from floor 1 to floor 4 in an elevator to speak our truth. If you can sum up your WHY in an elevator speech, then you really know that you have something.
- Build reflection into your practice, if it’s not already there. Revisit your WHY and how your actions are or aren’t manifesting your WHY in a cycle that makes sense to you. For me, I need a lot of revisiting upfront when I’m trying to recenter my practice. So, I should probably reflect on this question and my actions every couple weeks, and for sure, anytime someone offers me a new teacher leadership role. A more sporadic reflection might look like start of school, winter break, spring break, start of summer.
Revisit Opportunities and Don’t be Afraid to Say No
This is the hardest action for me. Saying NO. I like to be helpful. I like to make sure that things work. But, I also need to recognize that someone else will say YES when I say NO. By saying NO to things that don’t match my WHY and my capacity, I’m actually allowing:
- my YES opportunities to be better as they receive my focused attention
- others to grow and be offered leadership roles, a spreading of the wealth
- myself to be in command of my teacher career path
- myself to seek out opportunities rather than simply accept opportunities
What is your WHY? How much does your WHY show up in your current Teacher Leadership roles?
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