So many times we talk about teacher engagement in the form of how engrossed they are in their professional learning. However, as I’ve started speaking and working with educators on a larger scale, I’ve come to realize that engagement has more to do with the depth of the relationship that an educator still feels they have with their profession than it does their professional learning.
The teaching profession is a passionate calling. We serve kids. We desire to create better people than we consider ourselves to be. We work tirelessly, lose sleep, and get excited over an extra package of copy paper found in a back cupboard. But, year after year, we are required to do more with less. Classroom budgets dwindle while expectations rise, declining quality of health insurances leave us with more bills for general care yet our salaries rarely go up, and new challenging behaviors and mental health issues surfacing in both teachers and kids wear educators down.
Even though I would say that I’m highly engaged in my profession now, I wasn’t immune to this issue. When I hit this point in my career, I began to say things like:
“If the district is not going to do __________ for me, they can’t expect me to do __________ for them.”
“(student’s name) is doing that to me on purpose just to irritate me”
“I’m not doing _________ because the district doesn’t pay me to do that.”
I was so incredibly tired of being told that I needed to know my kids the best but then told to follow whatever canned curriculum had been adopted because some random curriculum designer must’ve known my kids better than I did. I was hurt and I didn’t feel trusted with my professional decisions that I had partially made with a very personal heart. I had checked out, and I felt I was done.
At first, I thought I was just in a district that wasn’t providing me with what I needed to be the teacher I was destined to be, which might have been true, but only to a point. However, after a district and position change, I realized that the actual issue was something that I didn’t necessarily want to admit. The issue was inside me. It took me taking control of the way that I viewed my profession through deep and sometimes difficult reflection to get to where I am today. And I need to say…it’s amazing. There are so many positives that come from being truly engaged in your profession. I am less stressed. I am a better leader and educator. I appreciate students and the quirks that make them special. I am more open to diverse opinions and ideas. I know my value. I recognize the value in others. I know my place in the education world.
Most importantly, I am happy.
When I decided to take control of my engagement, I did a few things that anyone could do. The most important one I made, however, was the decision to just be better. I knew that in order for me to love education again, the changes had to start with me.
I practiced reflecting & developed my core beliefs
My reflective thinking shifted from what other people had done to me to what I could have done better. I stopped focusing on the fact that sometimes other people’s decisions affected the outcome of something I was doing, and started focusing on what I could have done differently in the situation. When I realized that I had more control over my world than I thought I did, I was able to drive myself forward in spite of what others were doing around me, and focus on the people that were willing to support me instead.
My practice in reflection continued when I started blogging but really didn’t develop until I realized that my blog was about my own reflection for me and not writing for someone else. It was about getting my own thoughts in order to create headspace and develop my core beliefs. I’ve written about my reflection and beliefs before in my post What Is the Point In Blogging?
I grew my PLN
I have wholeheartedly recognized that I am only as good as the people I surround myself with. I have worked hard to connect with people that are amazing at what they do. I have multiple mentors because everyone has different strengths and can help me be better in those areas. I have a wide range of people I’ve connected with to the point that at any given time with any question I have, I know multiple people I could reach out to that would help me, and I have complete faith in their abilities to do so. I have used Twitter mainly to grow my PLN, but I’ve also utilized Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, as well as connected with people in person at conferences. I’ve focused on growing my PLN worldwide because I want to be challenged by a wider range of ideas and opinions.
I focused on relationships
One strength I have is creating relationships, and if you’re growing your PLN, relationships still need to be at the forefront. It’s not enough to be connected with them virtually or superficially, the relationships created in these places need to be cultivated and nurtured. Like any relationship, that takes time and effort. I do the same with the people around me. I often hear, “I feel like I have a connection to you” from people, but it’s really just because I legitimately care and will do whatever I can for the people I care about. Minimal effort into relationships will result in minimal connection and minimal support from others. People can sense when they are not seen as important, especially if they’re only connected with when there’s a need for assistance.
I read books
I began setting a goal for reading for myself, just like I had for my students. I also had a long commute so I would find audio books to listen to. I looked for books that fit particular purposes and what I needed at that moment. Sometimes, it was a book that would push my thinking, sometimes it was one that would support my thinking, and sometimes it was something that would motivate or inspire me. Prior to re-engaging, I would focus on non-fiction books and “fun reading”, but I began to understand that there is a place for both, and if I want to continue growing, I need to connect with great thinkers and authors in the education field. When growing my PLN, some of these people have become some of my best friends.
When I realized that I no longer wanted to be miserable going to work every day, that I owed my students so much better than I was, and that I had control over how I viewed and engaged in my profession, I finally discovered the educator I was meant to be. It wasn’t going to be a degree or a district that gave that to me, I needed to go out and take control of what that looked and felt like. It was me that had to make that decision and take the initiative, and it’ll always be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for both myself and the little people I work with every day.