Finding your Anchor: Creating a Vision for the Work We Do

I hope you’ve had a great summer and that you’re feeling motivated to enjoy a productive and “best ever” kind of school year.  Before the pace picks up too much, let’s spend some time thinking about who we are as teachers and who we want to become…..

The Beginning
Why did you become a teacher?  What drew you to the work and caused you to either pick a teaching major or leave another field to pursue this one?

For most of us, the answer has something to do with wanting to make a difference, some sense that teaching was an act of service to a greater good.  We got into this, despite knowing that the financial benefits may be lacking, compelled, I would guess, by a deep desire to do work that matters.

Consider the teacher you wanted to become all those years (months?) ago when you first chose this noble profession.  Think only of that teacher, the one who existed in your mind…some future self, as you answer these questions:

  • How would that teacher relate with students?
  • What would be the atmosphere of his/her classroom?
  • How would that teacher involve parents and serve the community?
  • How would s/he stay current on best practices?
  • How would s/he tackle problems and setbacks?

Or most simply: What would be his/her legacy? How would s/he make it come to be?

The Right Now
Now, consider the teacher you have become.  How aligned is the current reality with the original vision? If we’re honest,it’s likely that we’ve lost some idealism as we’ve faced the many areas of brokenness we encounter each day: from political systems, to hurting families, to all manner of social ills.

But these realities should refine the vision, not destroy it.

What is your vision for the work you do?  And to what degree does it drive you?  This is not a pie in the sky kind of question.  Rather, this has to be at the core of our work.

Without this vision, we’ll get lost in the weeds (the stacks of papers, the stream of new initiatives, the difficult students and parents, the lack of resources), and we’ll become less effective and, ultimately, burnt out.  

Or we’ll struggle to be consistent, not a rigid kind of consistency, but the good kind, the kind that demonstrates commitment to something bigger, despite our current mood, the students’ behavior, this year’s course load, etc.

In essence, I’m asking you this question: What are you about?  What is your classroom about?  What should students, families, and colleagues expect from you?

The Yet to Be

  1. Return to the six questions above about the ideal teacher.  Answer them in as many words as you need; then whittle away the answer until you have the golden nugget of truth.  Put those together, and you’ll have a draft vision statement. If you’re not sure how to answer them, ask some people who know you well.  Ask your students and colleagues (even if you don’t like their answers, you’ll be well-served by this process).
  2. Consider a mantra for your classroom.  A teacher whom I respect greatly has two: Never FInished and Do Hard Things. He works to ensure that everything he does in his professional (and personal) life connects back to those mantras.
  3. Develop a metaphor that represents your work.  Again, referencing Stuart, he sees teachers as lighthouses.  He says, “Teachers are the kinds of lighthouses that are relentlessly exposed to the worst abuse the elements can offer, and yet they stand, boldly casting a light out into the darkness, guiding a relentless stream of ships passing by. Just like these lighthouses, the work of teachers is life-and-death stuff. Lighthouses get ships to where they’re going – not for the glory, not for the praise, but because it’s what they’re for” (p. 7).  

My hope for us is that we can thrive in our work, that we can be focused and purposeful and deliberate in our pursuit of our students’ well-being. That we can model dependability, trustworthiness, and integrity in our roles.  And that we would do these things with great joy, anchored by a vision of what could be when our best selves come to work everyday to do our best work for the good of those we serve.

Here’s to a great 2017-18 school year.  Go change the world….

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