Two weeks ago, (wow! It feels like so much longer!) I challenged us to push past WHAT when we're teaching, leading, and mentoring people. I hope you've taken the time over the past two weeks to consider that thought and that it has helped you as you've put pen to paper to plan lessons, coaching sessions, and new course designs. Pushing past what to HOW is chunky enough for us to chew on for quite some time, but the teacher in me could not stop there.
While I have your attention, while you're investing time examining your practice, may I ask you to peel back another layer of the onion? If not, that is okay. I understand. I know how challenging it can be to re-shuffle your mind and re-think what you've believed when you have a revelation moment. I have experienced a few moments like that in my life, and it felt like my brain was breaking.
However, if you are ready to peel back another layer of the onion, let me ask you this question: Why? Why is it you do what you do? Why do you teach? Why are you a youth leader? Why do you invest your blood, sweat, and tears in helping others grow? If you're anything like me, thinking about that for more than three seconds will bring tears to your eyes, your heart will swell with emotion, and your mind will flood with stories you could use to try and explain.
Firstly, I would LOVE to hear those stories! Please share them with me!
Secondly, I want to articulate that THOSE stories and THAT feeling are what keeps us going when things get tough. Helping people grow is hard work. Helping people grow is often thankless. Helping people grow often requires us to give people what they NEED, even when it does not align with what they WANT.
I had this experience as a youth leader when one of 'my girls' sat me down and proceeded to tell me she hated me because I challenged one of her decisions. I had this experience as a teacher when I asked my students to read feedback from their peers that made them so mad; they did not show up to class. Lucky for me, I have also experienced that same girl take me out to coffee to apologize, and those same students grab me in a bar years later and admit that they hated me at the time, but they 'got it' now and were grateful.
Our WHY keeps us going when our plans, expectations, and optimism come face to face with a reality that is full of valleys, hard climbs, and setbacks that bring us to our knees. Our WHY is an anchor for our grit, courage, and determination. It is the thing that keeps us climbing and pushing through when everything in us wants to give up. And HONESTLY, it's what got us all through 2020 and into 2021 still standing.
We need our WHY and so do our students. When our students read their math textbook for the third time, trying to understand when to use SIN, COS, and TAN, they need a WHY. When we are challenging our mentees' decisions to build their character, they need a WHY. When a learner has worked a 12hrs day, put their kids to bed, and is now burning the midnight oil completing the online course we designed, they need a WHY.
I'm not saying for a moment they don't have one, and we need to give it to them. But I am saying we might need to help unearth it and connect the dots. As a 14yr old reading a math textbook, we might not get that understanding SIN, COS and TAN will help us with our dream of being an architect. Or that the very act of understanding a challenging concept is training our brain's ability to solve complex problems. As a young professional, we might not know that the decision we made today to shame someone publicly (whether deserved or not) could impact the outcome of a job interview we have five years later. And perhaps more importantly, we might not understand the value of having a WHY to hold on to when things get tough (That's right, WHEN, not IF).
When we learn and grow, we acquire knowledge, develop skills and build character, but our WHY is the focal point, the bullseye we are aiming for, the change we want to see in the world!
If we have the skill of coding and the change we want to see is more access to education, we can work for an Edtech company. That way, when the coding gets tough, we have our WHY to hold on to. If we have project management skills and a focus on health and wellbeing, we can work in operations at a hospital. That way, when we're on project overload, we have our why to hold on to. If we can build things and a passion for saving the environment, we can work in environmental engineering. Are you getting the picture?
Just look at all of us. The change we want to see in the world is growth in people. But it is being outworked in many different ways, using MANY different skills. Some of us are teachers in schools. Some of us are learning designers in universities. Some of us are managers in big corporations, and some of us (like me) are researchers pushing to make a change in the whole educational system.
SAME WHY. Lots of different whats and hows! But, it is the WHY that evokes the emotion and determination. It's the why that helps us persevere. So, please don't stop at WHAT. Don't stop at HOW. Help your students unearth their WHY and connect the dots between their WHY and what you're teaching them. Then maybe, just maybe, when the learning and growing gets tough, they will know what their anchor is and it will be strong enough to see them through.