A few years back, I agreed to help organize an “SEL Day” at a local school. The organizing team did not seem to have a clear objective for the event, but I agreed anyway thinking that I could be of help. As the team started making decisions about the event, I became increasingly frustrated—I thought there were better ways to present information, engage the participants or select speakers. Since I did not want to question the group’s decisions, I became disengaged and lost interest. Then, as we were getting closer to the day of the event, I realized that I had forgotten the very reason why I had agreed to support this initiative: I wanted to support this group in pursuing something that was important to them, and that aligned with my own values. My purpose was not about creating the “perfect” event according to my criteria, but it was about supporting this group of people. When I realized that it was about them, not me, my feelings changed—I felt excited and proud of the work that had been done so far. In the end, the event was a success. Although my initial feelings were valid, I had been putting my attention on the wrong thing—I had been so focused on the outcome, that I had missed the value of the process. By revisiting my purpose, I was able to see the situation from a different perspective and transform my emotions and the actions I took. It was a powerful reminder of how important it is to connect daily actions with our sense of purpose.
In my forthcoming book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind, I have dedicated a full section to discuss the HEART skills of educators. If we want students to develop these important competencies, we need to support teachers in doing the same. In this snippet, I explore how connecting to our purpose builds our capacity to navigate challenges and setbacks. Let me know what you think.
The last competency in the HEART in Mind model, Transform with Purpose, means using our personal assets and interests to contribute to ourselves and others in positive ways.
Too often we forget to connect with our “internal compass” (or to teach others to discover their own), and we may find ourselves lost, confused or thirsty for meaning. Having a sense of purpose has been found to contribute to well-being, especially in the areas of good health and life satisfaction[i]. It helps youth and adults to maintain their motivation and a sense of hope for the future. It is an internal driver to do good in the world.
Having purpose also helps us to use our HEART skills more intentionally. When we have clarity about what to do to move forward in our lives, we are more likely to connect with our emotions, pay attention to the decisions we make and nurture our empathy and relationships with others. The verb Transform has a special meaning here-it refers to the fact that a new reality is created, and hopefully a better one, when we are able to act on our purpose.
In the context of educator resilience, transforming with purpose means that we use these intentions to make better, more informed decisions, and navigate the setbacks that we will inevitably encounter in the teaching profession, and life in general. However, this is an intentional practice—it doesn’t just happen. It requires that we consciously (re)visit our purpose, checking in to see if our personal interests, values or skills have changed over time. If they have changed, considering what that means for us as individuals and our work. Sometimes we need to revisit this purpose, because we got caught up in different situations (trying to take control or prove we are right) and we forgot our true intentions, like it happened to me when I tried to help organize the SEL day.
A practical way to engage in this process is by asking the question: what is my true goal here? This question can be applied to small situations, such as an argument with a colleague or a student, or big situations, such as considering a leadership role or changing schools. When we ask this question, we are trying to get to the core of the matter, seeing past the noise and details that make our vision blurry. It is a process to acknowledge the true value of what is happening, and bring our purpose forward. By engaging in this process, we can feel more grounded and in control of our decisions. Open to life’s experiences, while feeling ready for whatever those may be.
A year ago, I announced that I was writing a book. Twelve months and many pages later, I feel confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Your messages and words of encouragement keep me going. I appreciate every one of them.
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[i] Stillman, S. & Martinez, L. (2019). Guiding Youth to Noble Goals: A Practitioner Perspective. Journal of Character Education, 15(2), 91-102.