Wholehearted teaching naturally means teaching with purpose. Let’s unpack this together..
One year, I had a particularly “low” class. They struggled. Almost half of the class were on IEPs and having a really difficult time just keeping up. They were all grouped together due to their language abilities (don’t get me started on that one), so we had to really work at things and tried to celebrate even the smallest of successes.
I wanted so badly for them to succeed. I spent almost my entire disposable income that year on extra activities we could do and things I could try. I desperately tried all of the strategies in my toolkit. But week after week, we had to give common formative assessments in our grade level, and my kids scored the lowest – every week.
Every week I cried on the way home from school after our PLC meetings (and sometimes right in the middle of the PLC meetings). I saw their test scores and I equated them with personal failure.
In my mind, if my students weren’t doing well on the assessments then I couldn’t teach well. And if I couldn’t teach well then my entire purpose in life was a waste. This was it. All eggs were in this basket. And I felt like I dropped the whole dang basket of eggs off a cliff.
Where are your eggs? Where do you find your value? The answer to that question is the key to a fulfilling life.
Cultivating a fulfilling life is what most of us are after. “A life unexamined isn’t worth living” as Socrates once said. Most of us are striving to be the best version of ourselves each and every day.
That’s what I call wholehearted living.
I can’t take total credit for the phrase – it actually came from the work of Brene Brown on wholeheartedness which includes several attributes like self-compassion, vulnerability and empathy.
Wholehearted living means showing up and letting yourself be seen, stepping in to uncomfortable arenas of life, caring deeply while simultaneously cultivating boundaries, constantly seeking growth while also giving ourselves space to fail and self-compassion when we are less than what we desire.
Wholehearted living is a tightrope walk – a dance with balance and forward momentum.
What does this have to do with teaching? It has literally everything to do with teaching!! Teaching is more than a job, it’s a calling, and when we aren’t living and teaching with purpose and wholeheartedness, we are doing everyone a disservice.
The struggle for wholehearted living and teaching is real. It’s an out and out mental battle. It’s sometimes a cultural battle if your school culture isn’t healthy. It’s constant. But the more we practice – the better we get.
During that difficult year I described above, I was losing a battle. But not the one for student success. Those kids showed tremendous growth and make HUGE gains. The battle I was losing was the mental belief that I was a good teacher – that I was put on this planet to teach and could teach well. I lost the battle with my inner gremlins. And I had no resources for helping me live and teach from a place of wholeheartedness and authenticity.
But YOU do! You have the ability to remind yourself of your purpose and efficacy every day!! You have this blog and other resources. You have me – A Teacher’s Best Friend – to help you if you need to go farther with 1:1 coaching. You also have a community to support you and build you back up on the tough days.
Living and teaching from a place of wholeheartedness means that you know and live your purpose.
Finding Your Purpose
- Reflect on times in your life when you felt “on purpose” – when everything was just flowing and felt right. Write those times down. There may only be a few times – that’s okay!
- Now reflect on each of those times, and journal a few sentences about why you felt “on purpose”. What about that moment felt so right? Do this exercise for each of the moments you identified.
- Look for patterns within your notes. Are there words or phrases, themes or feelings that repeat or are consistent?
Writing a Purpose Statement
Now take those common words and phrases and begin formulating them into an answer to this question, “Who are you?” Start your statement with “I am….” It should be short enough that you can commit it to memory easily and it rolls off your tongue as sort of a mantra. Ideally, it should be one short sentence.
My purpose statement is: I am an instrument of love and encouragement.
If I look back on all of my various missions and seasons in life, the times I have felt the most on purpose had to do with encouraging and loving on people. No wonder I was discouraged when I was trying to find my worth in test scores!!!!
Living and Teaching with Purpose
Now that you have your purpose statement written down, put it on sticky notes all over your house, your classroom, your computer, your grade-book, your desk, your whiteboard – anywhere!!! I want you to see it multiple times a day so that you can live and teach with purpose.
I missed this one at first and thus had a really crappy year – I don’t want you to miss it so hear me on this. Reframe your work as teacher to be on purpose with your life. Chances are this doesn’t mean a career shift – you will be able to exercise your purpose today in your current job and role.
My most treasured moments with my students were the times when I took the time to listen to them, encourage them to keep trying, and celebrated with them on small successes. I was on purpose when I was loving on them. And I’m on purpose now as I try to encourage and love on YOU as a teacher for a small moment in time.
Finding your purpose is imperative for cultivating your own fulfillment metrics and ultimately from living and teaching from a place of wholeheartedness. Your purpose sets the direction for your life. It’s like pointing your compass toward your heart’s true north.
That is my deepest wish for each of you.
~Alison, A Teacher’s Best Friend