Teachers Don’t Need To Find Their WHY

find their why

Every couple of years or so, a Big New Idea sweeps across the business world and ends up being adopted by (or forced on) education leaders. Fish! Philosophy, SMART goals, strategic planning, data-driven decision-making, and choosing your One Word have all found their ways into central offices and welcome back PD days. One of the latest of these fads is finding your WHY. This one is brought to us by Simon Sinek, who you probably know from this video:

Finding your WHY (he’s the one who capitalizes it) is about identifying the reason you do what you do. It’s your passion, your reason for existing. Sinek describes it as, “why you get out of bed in the morning and why anyone should care.”

Because we revere business in this country, schools love hopping on the bandwagon when these fads emerge from the ether. When a business management expert sells a few million copies of his new book and racks up a few million views on YouTube, you can bet there will be plenty of school administrators champing at the bit to shoehorn their ideas into their organizations. “How can this apply to teaching?” they’ll ask.

The truth is, sometimes it doesn’t. Unfortunately, that rarely dampens people’s enthusiasm for it.  I’m willing to bet there are thousands of teachers across the country who have been asked to find their WHY in the last few years. Administrators who push this question have good intentions, but they’re focused on the wrong problem.

Teaching is pregnant with meaning. Teachers do not need to find their WHY. I know very few teachers who don’t recognize their purpose. All of us know our work is meaningful. That’s why most of us chose it instead of fields that paid more but offered less meaningful work. Teaching is a mission-driven profession entered into by largely selfless people for noble reasons. Most teachers are idealists at heart. You have to be, considering the challenges of the job and the modest tangible rewards for doing it.  No teacher enters the profession confused about its importance. In fact, one survey of 30,000 teachers found that 100% of them (that’s all 30,000!) were enthusiastic about the profession when they started. That’s because they were 100% sure of their WHY. Even veteran teachers haven’t forgotten why they’re there. Since finding meaning in one’s work is a major contributor to personal happiness, it’s not surprising that teachers rate their lives better than all other occupation groups except doctors. 

But teachers are far less happy when they’re actually at work. 61% say their jobs are always or often stressful, and they rank their work environment lower than farmers, construction workers, and miners do. How can this be? If teaching is so meaningful — if teachers know their WHY — how can they be so unhappy at school?

Simple. Teachers don’t burn out and quit because they lose their sense of purpose; they burn out and quit because they can’t pursue that purpose. 

Teachers don’t burn out and quit because they lose their sense of purpose; they burn out and quit because they can’t pursue that purpose. Click To Tweet

The unanimous enthusiasm young teachers feel when they start quickly wilts under the crushing reality found inside today’s schools. While every teacher starts off believing in the promise of their jobs, just 53% said they were still enthusiastic about teaching at the point they took the above-mentioned survey. Those who “strongly agreed” had dropped from 89% to 15%. The most dangerous year for a teacher is her first. More teachers quit after year one than any other year. The job didn’t suddenly become devoid of meaning for these young idealists. They quit because of the disconnect between what they want to do (their WHY) and what they believe they can do.

Say I start a food pantry because my WHY is to eradicate hunger in my community. My job will certainly not lack meaning. I will be motivated to seek out donations. I’ll research neighborhoods and identify potential clients. I’ll use traditional and digital media to get the word out. I’ll work with schools and businesses to organize food drives. I’ll move heaven and earth to fulfill my mission.

Now say that upon starting my food pantry, the health department tells me I can’t accept certain types of foods. Then I discover that it’s hard to find and keep reliable volunteers. Then I run into capacity problems; I need more space! Then some of my clients start showing up too often and taking more than their fair share. I have to make new rules. Some clients hate my new rules. I regularly run out of popular items and have to purchase them with very limited funds. Some complain about the food I do provide. Then somebody gets sick and sues me. Now I’m paying a lawyer. At some point, I might decide that having a WHY isn’t enough. There are simply too many impediments.

That’s what too many teachers decide.

If a lack of purpose was a real problem for teachers, then we’d expect greater turnover in affluent schools than in high-poverty ones. Teachers might rightly question the meaning of their job if they’re teaching in a wealthy district where kids are going to go to college regardless of their teachers’ efforts. Teachers unquestionably have a better chance at improving the lives of those who come from less. Finding meaning in their work isn’t the issue. The fact that far more teachers leave high-needs schools than affluent ones suggests that it’s not the meaning of the job that makes the difference in whether teachers stick it out, but the likelihood that such meaning can be effectively pursued.

It’s the barriers that are the problem. The lack of resources needed to do the job. The outside factors that influence students’ motivation and abilities. The insufficient training. The absence of mentors. The lack of parent knowledge or support. These are the things that make it hard to remain passionate about a mission that grows increasingly unlikely to be realized.

Even worse is the bureaucratic buffoonery that tends to be especially egregious in high-poverty districts. It’s exhausting to fight for what should be basic needs and rational policies. Teachers are too often forced to do things that conflict with their sense of purpose. No teacher went into the job to focus on test scores and compliance. They shouldn’t have to give a weekly reading test to a kid they know can’t read the test. They shouldn’t be prohibited from reading a math test to a student who’s excellent at math but can’t decode the words in the problem. They shouldn’t be forced to use this grading scale and enter this many grades by such-and-such a date. The decision to assign homework or not shouldn’t be made for them. They shouldn’t be precluded from taking lethargic students outside for a break or discouraged from providing students time to read whatever they want because they have to teach from a canned program that the kids despise and that doesn’t even work.

Those teachers find their WHY, but the why they find is, “WHY did I become a teacher again?”

Teachers already have a WHY. They don’t need soul-searching and deep introspection. Those who are burned out haven’t mailed it in because they believe teaching lacks meaning. They’re demoralized because the meaning inherent in the job has been stripped away in service to some other less meaningful goals.

Teachers do not need to find their WHY. They simply need to be allowed to pursue it.

Teachers don't need to find their WHY. They need to be allowed to pursue it. Click To Tweet

 

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Short-Term Gain for Long-Term Pain

Suppose you were offered the following choice:  $50 right now or $60 in six days. Which would you choose?

Now suppose you are offered $50 today or $60 in six months. Which would you take?

Your answer will likely depend on a number of factors, such as:

How hard up for cash you are.

Whether or not you’ve been given less than six months to live.

How much you trust the person offering you the money to return with it when he promises to.

And whether or not you believe you can invest the money and make more than the delayed option in the given timeframe.

Your choice will also depend on the fact that you’re human, and being human you likely prefer immediate gratification over delayed rewards. Although an extra ten bucks is an extra ten bucks no matter when it’s collected, robust research shows that most people take the smaller amount if they can have it now. Economists call this tendency to over-value immediate rewards at the expense of long-term intentions present bias.

Present bias explains why you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolutions. It’s why you blow up your monthly budget to buy that amazing purse during an Amazon Lightning deal. It explains why you destroy your diet when there’s a delicious pizza pie in front of you and also why you find yourself in a long line at the supermarket before dinner time with all the other procrastinators. It’s why one-third of Americans have nothing saved for retirement and why the average household owes about $7,000 in credit card debt.

Present bias also explains why good teachers get fed up and quit.

Short-Term Gain for Long-Term Pain

Suppose you are a principal who is offered the following choice: Help one child now or help many children over the course of 10 years? Which would you choose?

It seems obvious to help the many instead of the one and yet each year, thanks to present bias, principals do the opposite. They satisfy immediate needs at the expense of long-term benefits.

Beth Houf, principal of Fulton Middle School in Missouri and the coauthor of the book Lead Like a Pirate, once wrote that the reason great teachers are asked to do more is that’s what’s best for kids. She’s hardly the only administrator who believes this. And it’s hard to argue with such logic. When a needy student is right there in front of you, you’d have to be a monster to not want to help.

So principals move a struggling child from one teacher’s class into a more effective teacher’s room. They place more challenging students in the classroom of teachers who’ve mastered classroom management. They give the most competent educators the toughest intervention groups because those are the students who need the best instruction. They ask the most dedicated teachers to present at parent nights because they know those teachers will accept and that the presentation will go well.

They solve the problem in front of them without considering the long-term costs. They succumb to present bias. In doing so,  they make it more likely that their school and the future students who will attend it will suffer.

The Paradox of Success

In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown describes something he calls the “paradox of success.” For teachers, it works like this:

1. We start out focused on being the best teacher we can for our students. As young, overwhelmed teachers, we limit our efforts to what will make the biggest impact and we’re open to learning from others.

2. Because we are focused and always learning, we improve. Our success is noticed by our principals, who offer us additional opportunities. If successful with these, we become a go-to person who is offered even more opportunities.

3. The more we are asked to do, the less we’re able to focus on what led to our initial success. Our efforts are diffused as we are spread thinner and thinner.

4. We become distracted from our highest contribution, which is effectively teaching the students in front of us. We’ve undermined our own success by doing too much.

Some of this is on the teacher. Teachers need to get better at telling people no, which, not coincidentally, is the subject of my next book, The Teacher’s Guide to Saying NO, available in February on Amazon.

But principals must also be aware of the dangers of the success paradox and present bias. Yes, your best teachers can help you solve your most pressing problems. Many of them will see your frequent dependence on them as a compliment and they won’t refuse your requests. But asking the same teachers to solve multiple problems will wear them out. It will make them less effective at their primary job. And it can, over time, drive them from your building.

I know a woman who was an amazing educator. She’d worked her way from teacher to principal of a Catholic elementary school in Wisconsin. Because she was so effective, she was asked to take on more responsibilities. Parents loved her, so she became the face of the organization. It wasn’t long before she was working 14-hour days while spending less and less time on her principal duties. She was relied on and she knew it. Her effectiveness became part of her identity, so much so that instead of admitting that she was overwhelmed and asking her boss for fewer responsibilities, she quit. Today, this talented educator works in a bank.

Combatting Present Bias

People have limits. That includes the most effective teachers. To keep them around for many years so they can help many students, principals should remember to fight present bias. They should hold off for the greater reward.

There are three ways they can do so. One study in Chile found that it wasn’t interest rates that worked best to compel people to save but peer groups and reminders. Those who announced their savings targets to others and set up text message reminders deposited money in their savings accounts 3.5 more often than those who were simply offered a higher interest rate. Principals who want to avoid overworking their best teachers can do likewise. Talk with other principals about what you’re intentionally doing to preserve your best teachers’ energy and set up frequent reminders or schedules so that you don’t return to the same people every time you have a problem that needs solving.

Forced commitments also work. One way to avoid giving in to present bias is to deny yourself the ability to act in the present. This is the concept behind automatic deposits and Christmas clubs. When the money isn’t there, you can’t spend it. By making it hard to access, you force yourself to delay gratification. Principals can force themselves to focus on the long-term wellness of their teachers instead of the short-term problems they want to solve by establishing rules for asking their teachers to do more. Keep a list of teachers who are already doing extra and forbid yourself from asking them to do more.

A third method is to imagine the future. In one experiment,  the faces of the participants were digitally scanned and altered to create a realistically aged version. Researches presented subjects with a hypothetical choice about their preferred retirement allocation. Those who saw the aged images of themselves chose to save more for their golden years. When tempted to approach your go-to teacher with a new problem for her to solve, stop and imagine your school without that teacher in five years. Picture yourself older. Envision a new batch of students.  Consider the problems that you’ll have to face and the very real possibility that there will be different people to solve them if you keep asking your best teachers to do more today.

 

Image source: Pixabay

 

5 Natural Ways to De-stress Your Mind and Body

The following is a guest post by Cathy Baylis.

 

There are two types of stress: the bad stress that you’re all familiar with and a good one. Yes, you’ve read that right – there’s even positive stress. But, why is it important to know the difference? Well, when you identify your stressors, you’ll better manage the way you respond to them.

Stress can be good because it protects you when needed and it helps you focus when you need to stay on top of your game. On the other hand, negative stress harms your physical and mental health. It can cause depression, digestive problems, heart disease, and other unwanted issues.

Hence, it’s crucial to keep the good stress but to find a way to eliminate the bad. Here are five natural ways that will help every busy teacher de-stress their minds and bodies.

Organize and prioritize

As a teacher, you’re overwhelmed with preparing lessons, tests, school administration, managing students outside the classroom, tracking their progress and presenting the information to parents. You have many things on your plate on a daily basis which is your main stressor. An excellent way to reduce stress is to handle your school activities by organizing and prioritizing.

The best way to do this is to:

– Identify your goals. Determine your objectives for a day, week, month, and a year. That way you’ll have a clear focus.
– Prioritize. Set priorities according to your goals. You can use Urgent/Important Principle to prioritize your tasks.
– Set deadlines. If you don’t have a deadline, you’ll lose focus of your assignment, and it won’t get done.
– Use the calendar. Plan your time to get the most of it.

Exercise regularly

With so many activities and responsibilities, who has time for exercising? However, it only takes one step to break that vicious circle and introduce physical activity in your life. You’ll feel more energized and lighter which will prepare you to cope with stressful situations.

Another benefit that training brings is that it helps you take your mind off nerve-wracking thoughts. When you exercise, you are present and focused on body movements, so it’s like a meditation that has a therapeutic effect on your body and mind.

Invest in your health and go to the gym three times a week. It will be difficult at first, but it will pay off in the long run. If you don’t have time for exercising, consider this:

– Walk to the school if possible or at least park farther away from your room.
– Use breaks to stretch a little bit.
– Try walking meetings.

Eat healthy meals

Nourishing your body and mind with healthy food will give you fuel to tackle all your duties, no matter how stressful they are. Whenever you forget to eat or when you don’t have time to cook and you instead eat junk food, you harm yourself, which results in more stress.

Therefore, try to include or exclude the following food from your diet to lead a healthy life and keep stress in check:

– Eat more fruit, vegetables, and other food rich in fiber.
– Avoid too many caffeinated drinks which increase your adrenaline.
– Include superfoods, such as berries, dark chocolate, nuts, and seeds.
– Avoid nicotine because it only encourages anxiety.
– Eat complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, beans, and vegetables.

Get enough quality sleep

There’s a common misconception that stress causes inability to sleep well, but according to Harvard medical school, it’s actually the other way around – lack of good sleep inhibits you to deal even with the usual amount of stress, let alone intensive situations. As a consequence of poor sleep, you’re easily irritable and on edge, so nothing good can come out of it.

Implement the following pieces of advice to get enough sleep to rest well and be prepared to face all challenges calmly.

– Sleep eight hours per night. Give your body and mind time to rest and energize.

– Set a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

– Take naps if you need to charge your batteries for twenty minutes.

Nurture positive relationship with coworkers

A positive relationship with your colleagues has a significant impact on stress reduction. Talking with other teachers that you trust might not solve your issues, but it will help blow off some steam and help you feel better.

Likewise, friends at school can distract you and help you stop thinking about your problems.

But first, you need to form and nurture positive relationships:

– Leave your smartphone alone. Don’t spend your lunch breaks staring at your phone; connect with real people instead.

– Start the conversation. Don’t wait for someone to approach you, be the one who will ask first. Start with a simple “How are you?”

– Be an initiator. Propose a fun activity you can do together and bond.

Now, put these suggestions into practice. Start with one piece of advice and slowly incorporate the others. It will be hard. It will take some time. However, it will pave the way to a more peaceful life, so it will be worth it.


Cathy Baylis is a freelance content writer specializing in personal growth, career development, and education who writes for many sites including https://assignmentmasters.org/. Writing is not only her hobby but profession at the same time

“Is It Paid?”

A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I received an email from our principal asking who would like to join a new committee that central office had created. It seemed they wanted someone from each grade level. There are three third grade teachers in my building. None of us wanted to do it. One was pursuing a doctoral degree. I was already piloting a new science program and, being the new guy, had taken one for the team and signed on to attend bi-monthly leadership team meetings. That left the third teacher — let’s call her Joyce — as next man up and she knew it.

I sometimes wonder if anything would ever get done in a school if it weren't for guilt. Click To Tweet

I sometimes wonder if anything would ever get done in a school if it weren’t for guilt. Because guilt was the only reason Joyce even considered accepting this request. She wasn’t interested in the committee’s work and she’d served on district committees in the past whose recommendations had been ignored. Joyce can be a bit disagreeable, though, so she wasn’t just going to roll over. Instead, she replied to the principal with one question.

It’s a question I suspect few professionals are ever forced to ask or even wonder.

“Is it paid?”

A hush fell over the crowd.

For some reason, this question is considered impertinent in education. They’re the words of a sassy six-year-old talking back to her mother. How dare teachers ask such a thing? Shouldn’t the opportunity to do good by the students of our communities be enough? What are we, greedy opportunists who operate transactionally, only volunteering our time if we can personally benefit? Aren’t we team players? Don’t we want what’s best for kids?

Joyce knew all this. She relayed the story to us with the unmistakable glee of a rebel who’s just defiantly thumbed his nose at Authority and the undercurrent of fear as she waited to see how Authority would fight back.

Authority replied via email: “I’ll look into it.”

Which meant it wasn’t paid.

In a just world, the question should never need to be asked. Professionals should be paid for their time. Employers should offer to do so. It should be the expectation, not a favor. There should be no need to “look into it” because the answer should be, “Of course it’s paid! Why would you even ask such an outlandish thing?”

The education world is not just. Because if anything, teachers are more entitled to extra pay than other professionals when you consider the fact that teachers’ extra work will never personally benefit them unless they are paid.

Lawyers work crazy hours in the hopes of making partner.

Small business owners burn the midnight oil because they’re building something they hope will pay off in the end.

New hires slave away to impress their boss enough to receive a promotion.

There are no promotions in education. Every extra minute of unpaid work that a teacher performs beyond their contract is done solely for the benefit of others. They will personally receive nothing, ever. There is no brighter tomorrow because you sacrificed today. Teachers just start over every fall.

Which is why “Is it paid?” should be only a first step. The real question ought to be, “How much does it pay?” And the answer to that question should determine whether or not you’ll take on the additional responsibilities. Because there is a cost to doing so. There are no free lunches. Give here and you’ll have less to give over there. Every decision is a trade-off, so the question really becomes, “What are you willing to give up to take on this new task and how much should you be compensated in order to do so?”

The answer should never be nothing.

We all place a value on our time, but districts force us to place their value on our time. Most offer an hourly stipend that can’t be negotiated by individual teachers asked to do more work. When we’re lucky enough to be offered extra duty pay, it’s a Hobson’s choice — take it or leave it. Most of us take it because we’ve been conditioned to be grateful for anything, even an amount well below what we think our time is worth (and also typically well below the “hourly rate” we earn teaching).

Teachers should demand more. We can’t expect our employers to value our time when we give it away so cheaply.

Districts should pay more. They have in their employ a group of professionals who regularly tell us they are stressed, overworked, and exhausted. People are fleeing the profession and fewer replacements are joining the ranks. It’s exploitative to ask people who are telling you they are overwhelmed to do more and not offer to pay them fairly for it.

Since teachers already have too much to do, district leaders should not ask them to do more unless the time they are asking them to spend on the new work will be of greater value than the time they would have spent on their own work. And if you can’t afford to pay teachers to join your new committee, then you can’t afford to have a new committee.

If the work is important, pay people to do it. If the work is really important, pay them more. And if it's not that important, then why are you asking your teachers to do it? They already have enough to do. Click To Tweet

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Related:

Teachers’ Extra Hours Are Different

How Teachers Can Give Themselves a Raise

American Teachers Should Work Less

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

 

The Best Gift Teachers Can Give Themselves

Teachers across the country have started their holiday breaks and the feeling among most of them is one of giddy anticipation (and relief). Teachers I talked to this past week can’t wait to sleep in. They’re looking forward to spending time with family, Netflix bingeing, or taking a relaxing vacation somewhere warm and sandy.  Few spoke of material goods they hoped to get for Christmas. They were already getting what they wanted, time.

Teachers, like all other working stiffs, value time off because it gives them the one thing they don’t have enough of most of the year, and that one thing happens to be the most precious commodity on the planet. Time off from work means time away from schedules dictated down to the minute by someone else. It means time away from mindless meetings and baffling policies. It means time spent with loved ones instead of co-workers, nice people though they may be. And, if we’re being honest, it means time away from kids who aren’t yours to spend more time with the ones who are.

Time, long stretches of it, hour upon hour, where we can mostly do whatever we want, is the one gift everyone appreciates. And it’s a gift teachers can give themselves.

It’s strange that many of the same teachers who so value their time off around the holidays think nothing of wasting it once school is back in session. They devote hours of their weekends to checking papers and planning lessons. They go to school on Saturdays to run copies or put up new bulletin boards. Some voluntarily give their time to committees they don’t even care about.

Help is Available

Many of these teachers simply don’t know how to do things any differently. They realize that they’re exhausted, but aren’t sure how to break the cycle.

If you are one of these teachers, there is help available. There is a way for you to get yourself the best present any teacher can ever receive. Small investments now can chop hours off your weeks so that next Christmas you aren’t as overwhelmed.

You can read some previous posts on this blog. Start with these:

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

Be a Better Teacher By Doing Less

10 Things Overworked Teachers Can Stop Doing Tomorrow

 

You might also check out my 10-part series on preventing teacher burnout, which starts here or read my books, Leave School At School and Exhausted, which go into more detail. If you have trouble telling people no, then you’ll want to subscribe to Teacher Habits so you can purchase my upcoming book, The Teacher’s Guide to Saying No, at a low, members-only price.

And you should give the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club a look as well. To date, 45 Teacher Habits readers have joined the club and are now benefiting from increased efficiency, lower stress, and shorter workweeks. You can read some of their stories here

85% of members who joined the club last January trimmed at least three hours off their workweeks. If you cut just three hours off each workweek, you will have given yourself an additional 108 hours each year to do whatever you want with.  That’s almost five days, the length of spring break. Wouldn’t you like to give yourself a second spring break?

And you get to use the knowledge you gain from the club the rest of your career. Over ten years, you will have gained 45 full days. Over 20 years, you will have given yourself half a school year.

Is the Club Worth the Money?

How much is your time worth? If you don’t know, consider the question this way: How much would your district have to pay you to attend a one-hour voluntary professional development opportunity after school every Friday that offered you nothing except the chance to earn a little extra spending money?

Would $20 get you there?

Would you need closer to $30?

Would no amount be worth it to you?

Even if you value your personal time at a measly $10/hour, by saving 108 hours each year you’ll realize a value of over one-thousand dollars in the first year alone and that’s if you only save 3 hours per week and only value your time like my local McDonald’s values its teenage employees’ time.

So how much would you pay to save three hours every week and have those hours to yourself? The math is simple. Right now, the cost to join is $129 (it goes up January 1). Almost everyone who joins gains at least three hours per week, which works out to about a dollar an hour. Isn’t your time worth more than a dollar an hour?

There are only four reasons to not consider the club:

You don’t think it will work for you.

You don’t value your time.

You’re not good at math.

You don’t think you have the time to read the club materials.

You should know the following:

Only 2 out of every 100 teachers who join utilize the money-back guarantee and ask for a refund. The club does what it promises. It works. And one reason it works is that you can work through the material at your own pace and you don’t need to do everything to derive huge benefits. You can pick and choose and still save hours. The club’s content is also available in audio form, so if you don’t have time to read it, you can listen in the car.

And of course, if you don’t have time to learn how to give yourself the gift of more time, then I’d suggest that you need the club more than most.

Give yourself more of the best gift any teacher can ever receive. Give yourself more time to do the things you want.

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Links to the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club are of the affiliate variety. That means I get paid a commission if you join. It’s a great way to support yourself and Teacher Habits!