Our WHY has been challenged more than we thought it would be during these uncertain times. I’ve heard from educators around the world how they are coping, thriving, and some are even striving. We share our struggles and how we are able or not able to overcome them. We learn from and with each other. What I found is that even in the toughest times we need our connections now more than ever with people who have empathy and care because each and everyone matters.
As part of our personal learning network (#PLN), educators chose one word for the year. The #OneWord2021 I chose was STORIES. Our stories connect us. My book, Define Your Why, was about how you can own your story so you can live and learn on purpose. It was launched a year ago so I celebrated with a dance party. Below are stories from several of the awesome educators who put on their dancing shoes and then shared how they are defining their WHY during this crisis.
Craig’s WHY Story
While I’ve always thought about the importance of teaching, the Covid-19 crisis helped me to see the true power of “WHY” I teach. With so many families suffering, it’s our job as educators to be a difference-maker for children and teens. Especially in the field of Health and Physical Education, the importance of wellness has never been stronger. The mental, physical and social well-being of students is always part of “defining my why” in teaching.
Furthermore, so much of my why is centered around providing a positive, happy, empowering space for teens. The stress that Covid has placed on so many young adults makes knowing our why not just imperative for us, but also for our students. They must know that why we teach is centered around changing their lives for the better. While it’s impossible to see if we are impacting all students, putting our why into action matters.
Coach, Health & Fitness Instructor in Philadelphia, PA
Twitter Handle: #Shapiro_WTHS @Postively_Well
The host of #teachpos Twitter chat
Episode #101: Making a Difference in the Lives of Every Student
Molly’s WHY Story
When the pandemic hit, I knew that it was going to be an opportunity to really focus on why I taught the way I did. I had spent the last 2-3 years revising and rewriting three grade levels’ worth of material to give it more of a student-centered and personal touch. I took the time to listen to my students and discover what they were truly looking for. The biggest discovery was the amount of stress my students had to deal with on a daily basis. They would often come in fretting about having to take multiple tests per day, and of course the “BIG ONES” at the end of the year. So, I decided to do something about it… and made tests disappear!
I focused on my “WHY” and eliminated tests in my classroom. I am a teacher because I aim to enrich and improve the lives of every student that walks through my door. I decided to make my class less stressful by getting rid of the tests in my classroom. Since we’ve returned to 100% face-to-face instruction, my students have commented that my class is even more fun without the tests and that they know that they can feel relaxed, loved, and appreciated without the stress of a number from a test. I haven’t gotten all of my students on-board with this concept yet, but they are starting to see that life is not a multiple-choice test and neither is my class. Hopefully, this becomes the norm not just in my classroom, but all across education. It is time for school to be fun again, and I know I play a small part in that for my students every day!
Spanish Teacher in Boiling Springs, South Carolina
@TigerMolly11 on Twitter
Anna’s WHY Story
Believe it or not, for me, 2015-2016 was more crisis-laden than 2020. My best friend passed away, I got divorced, sold my home, all while under a 120% full-time contract; so, understandably, I had a major identity crisis from the stress and loss. After going to therapists, who unfortunately made me feel worse because I was given one-size-fits-all formulas to try to help my very specific needs, I decided to try to venture inside of my own mind and heart to discover how to heal.
The four years of journaling and digging deep to discover what was at the root of my mental and emotional illness resulted in my book, Sparrow’s Well. Through writing that book, I found my WHY: I provide a non-judgemental, listening ear and personalized feedback for action plans that will heal an individual in their own time with their own needs. I do this through individual consulting and will extend my service to provide online courses in the very near future.
The passion and strength I gained from using narrative therapy to heal are what helped me get through the crises of 2020 with more positive ease. I had already battled and conquered the ideas that used to infect me into negativity and production-paralysis. Because of the work, I did for my own healing, I was not blindsided when the pandemic propelled the once subconsciously hidden mental illness into conscious light for many other people.
As I read comments and postings on social media, I realize that my “WHY” is needed. In response to that need, I have created a safe space for people to walk through their own journeys, and I encourage people to share their individual perspectives on my website so that we can all learn from each others’ authentic perspectives and experiences.
Anna Marie Savino
Educator, Mentor, Author, CEO
CEO and Owner: Well-Cultivated Perspectives LLC
Author: Sparrow’s Well, Sparrow’s Song, Fueled by Coffee and Love: A Brew Perspective
Twitter: @ASMILEwithAnna @well_cultivated #bewellcultivated #ASMILEedu #ArtisanED
LinkedIn: Anna Savino, M.Ed.
Facebook: Well Cultivated Perspectives
Lisa’s WHY Story
In July of 2020, each Kindergartner was invited to personally meet their teacher masked-face to masked-face before they began their remote Kindergarten experience on the first day of school. Individual appointments had been scheduled and I excitedly, and sort of nervously, waited for the first little 5-year-old to come through my classroom door. This is my first year teaching Kindergarten and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from those introductions, especially with the unknowns of teaching remotely resting heavily on my shoulders.
The moment arrived when the first little one walked through my door and I instinctively dropped to my knees so that I could be at eye level with him. Even if our mouths and noses were masked, our eyes could still behold each other and I wanted the two of us to have that experience. That sweet little boy walked right up to me and very matter-of-factly said through his mask, “Well, I know you’ve been waiting for me. I made it. I’m here.”
The mountain of stress on my shoulders melted away, my heart swelled, and I said, “You know what? I have been waiting for you. I’ve been waiting for you my whole life.” and I believed it. That moment defined my purpose for the coming school year. I decided that whether in person or in a video chat, I wanted each of my students to feel that I’ve been waiting to love them my whole life.
Look at the sweet faces of those adorable students filled with wonder, curiosity, excitement, and joy.
There are no words to describe the stress of this school year, but every single day I do what I do because of those sweet little ones who don’t know school to be any other way. They are my WHY. It is a joy for me to be their first school experience and even though we have been remote all year and we only see each other on a screen, I feel their connection and I know they feel mine. I have done all that I have done and will continue to do, so that those kinder babies, those amazing souls I have been waiting my whole life to know, will love learning, will love wondering, will love creating, imagining, and discovering. They are my hope for the future, and, actually, I’m part of their hope for the future. My hope will inspire their hope and we’ll keep each other going. That’s what life is really all about anyway, isn’t it? Life is about connections and if we haven’t learned that in the past year, we haven’t been paying attention.
Lisa M. Love
Pamela’s WHY Story
The two most important days in life are the day you are born, and the day you discover the reason why. –Mark Twain
I always thought I knew my WHY– you know, to make a difference. Then on Father’s Day 2020, during a global pandemic, everything changed.
It was 5:00 AM on a Sunday. I woke to excruciating abdominal pain. The next thing I knew, I landed in the emergency room with a surgeon bending over me, declaring I needed intestinal surgery. After eight days in the hospital, I quickly became more grateful for every single breath and step I could take. You see, after the surgery, I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom by myself. I went from someone who runs for fun to someone who needed assistance for every single step.
One night, while in the hospital, I was frustrated that I couldn’t walk, and I was still in indescribable pain. (Something I never want to experience again, and I hope you never get the pleasure.) I began crying. It was that moment my night nurse reshaped my WHY.
As my night nurse helped me get out of bed and walk, she pointed me in a positive thinking direction as she pointed me towards the bathroom. She said, “You’ve got to think beyond the pain. You’ve got to pray.” Then, she firmly stated, “Who or what are you getting better for? You’ve got to focus on that!”
From that moment on, my pity party shifted to an I’m getting out of here more vital for my grandson party.
At the time, my first grandchild Everett hadn’t been born. (He arrived in August 2020.)
Thinking of him made me get stronger. Thinking of him shifted my thinking from pain to purpose. Thinking of him and living for him became my “WHY.” I started visualizing myself playing with him, singing to him, baking cookies with him, and taking him on adventures. My why became leaving a legacy through my children and grandchildren.
Your why takes many shapes and forms. (and can change.) I still have my overarching why — to make a difference. But it has branches. One component is my why for my school kids. The other is my why for my life.
To date, I’m staying healthy for my grandson, who now looks me in the eyes and smiles. Families leave legacies.
Knowing your why isn’t just about bettering your life but centering it around what matters most. Rick Warren wrote, “Knowing your purpose gives your life meaning, simplicity, focus, and motivation.” (Not to mention true happiness.) Your “WHY: is your purpose. Discover it and leave a legacy.
This is my first post with WHY stories from awesome educators. I am in awe of educators who are passionate about being there for kids. They go the extra mile and create magical learning opportunities.
I have over 26 stories including mine in my book. Stories connect us, inspire us, and touch our hearts. For more information about my book, Define Your WHY, go to this page or click on the image of the book for resources, guiding questions, and links.
Interested in checking out the Rethinking Learning podcasts and reflections, click on the podcast tab at the top, the logo below, or go to https://barbarabray.net/podcasts/