Building a positive school culture and creating routines to benefit communities of educators can support teachers and highlight their hard work as teachers discover their why.

Hey teachers–what is your ‘why?’

Building a positive school culture and creating routines to benefit communities of educators can support teachers and highlight their hard work

Intentionally building in these why-focused reflective routines and conversations into existing structures make them far more likely to become the language of the school year. Not only is it important to find the current that really moves us, but it’s also important to be able to connect with those who are moved by a similar current.

One Good Thing

As an educator, there are many times throughout your career when you’ve probably seen immediately the impact you’re making on your students. Whether it’s the light coming on in an “aha” moment of sudden understanding, performing a task or skill that once felt impossible, or making the just-right connection with a student who needs it most, taking time to recognize and celebrate the impact you are making each day is important. On the other hand, so much of teaching is also about delayed gratification. So often the fruits of our labor are seen by next year’s teacher or even further down the line. I’ll never forget the time I was teaching high school, and I was visited by one of my former students who had graduated two years prior. While this student and I didn’t have a contentious relationship, we certainly didn’t have a strong connection. I was completely surprised when he knocked on my classroom door two years later in full military uniform to give me a hug and say thank you for pushing him so hard. When he was my student, I can remember feeling like I wasn’t really reaching him. As it turns out, I was.

Celebrate your achievements, however humble and modest they may seem. The effects of a teacher’s hard work on the lives of students is anything but humble and modest. Those achievements might be something associated with a struggling reader developing into a confident reader, implementing accessibility tools that make learning more inclusive and engaging, or sharing your most effective practices with your colleagues.

At a time when teachers are facing so much scrutiny, criticism, and pressure, it’s critical for schools and administrators to create a community that celebrates teachers and their professionalism, resilience, and ability to adapt. In the past two years, the entire world learned just how resilient teachers are. Teachers are continually adapting, overcoming obstacles (some of which we’ve never seen before), and focusing on putting students first. Those daily achievements must not be overlooked.

One of my good friends who is still a teacher recently told me that at the end of the day when the hallways have cleared, teachers always congregate outside of her room to decompress and socialize. One day in the middle of conversation, she said, “Oh, before I forget, I have to tell you guys this one good thing!” She went on to share a meaningful interaction she’d had that day with one of her students. That led to another person saying, “Here’s my one good thing.” Over time, what began as one teacher organically sharing one good thing, quickly became a shared routine that has created a positive end to each day and honors the good work done by this group of teachers.

Shift Happens

My dad was also a teacher, and he used to jokingly say that the three best reasons to become a teacher are June, July, and August. I used to roll my eyes and give him a courtesy laugh. He was the teacher who believed in giving kids second chances and who understood that the kids who are sometimes the toughest to engage or connect with are the ones who needed him the most. Anyone who is teaching today knows that even as a joke, June, July, and August aren’t the reasons people become teachers. For most, it’s a love of learning, a desire to help students, an enthusiasm for specific content, or a desire to improve inequities of our education system.

Every teacher’s why is likely to shift over time. One of my favorite protocols to do with a group of teachers is called Passion Profiles from the National School Reform Faculty. If you’ve never gone through this exercise, I highly recommend it. Essentially, teachers are shown 8 different Passion Profiles and are asked to find the one they most closely connect to and why. Then, teachers with common Passion Profiles get together and articulate what it is like to have this passion and to be this sort of educator. Many groups I’ve led through this exercise also end up reflecting on the Passion Profile that may have fit them at one time as well as what Passion Profile best defines them now. As we grow and become more experienced, the current that moves us is likely to shift and change.

I don’t know if it’s ever been easy to be a teacher, but I do know that the past two-and-a-half years were not easy. As teachers all around me dug in and rose to the most difficult of occasions, I’ve been in awe of their adaptability and resilience. The suggestions in this article aren’t intended to overlook or gloss over the important issues of teacher pay and benefits, recognized professionalism, or the burden of the unrelenting teacher shortage. They are intended to help build a positive school culture, to identify routines that can benefit communities of educators, and keep focused on the good work going on every day in our schools. 

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