The Crosstrail of Professional & Personal Passions: When Your Why Meets Your Inspiration

Last week we talked about Starting with Heart outside of the classroom, and this week we’re going back inside our rooms, and even inside ourselves (cue Magic School Bus music…)  We’re exploring the realm of Heart in a unique way by looking at passions, and finding that moment when our personal passions intersect our professional passion.

When you’re hiking through a wilderness, oftentimes other trails will cross yours and provide you an option to perhaps end your journey to the summit in front of you, in favor of another.  Other times, trails merge and run together for miles before branching off further up the mountain. That point where they merge or intersect is a crosstrail. It gives us a choice to change trails, or keep going.  We have those in education too. We sometimes get lost in our content, skills, assessments, various logistical responsibilities that we forget the trail we were on, or worse, venture down a trail that takes us further from where we want to be.  In those moments, we have to remember our Why.

Simon Sinek in his world famous Ted Talk “Start with Why” says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  That has resonance for us as teachers, because our students will, for the most part, NEVER buy what we are selling, (content, skills, etc.) unless they first buy in to our WHY.  Similarly, we cannot reach our personal & professional summits without knowing and focusing on why we do it. The WHY is our professional passion. So let me share mine.

First, a little backstory. I was a curious kid.  I always wanted to know what was going to happen next and why things happened.  Learning was everything to me & I soaked it up every chance I got. Family trips to historic sites, national parks, and everything else we could imagine were some of my fondest memories of childhood.  As I started looking at colleges and possible career paths, I settled on teaching because I had been that kid who was “good at school.” Good grades, not a behavior issue, a typical solid A (sometimes B) student. For a long time, I didn’t have a “why” for teaching.  It’s a bit cliche, but I became a Social Studies teacher because I wanted to coach. Up until that point, the coolest job I had was working as a student coach for Kansas State University football. I got to be on the sidelines of home games, watch practices, work alongside players I had idolized growing up when they were players for K-State and were now coaching there.  I got to see upcoming prospects, escort them around the facility & campus, make highlight tapes that the coaches would use to evaluate high school talent. It was a dream! I thought, let’s get this degree, finding a high school teaching job & start coaching! I’ll focus my energies there, become great at it, and move as quickly as possible into college coaching.

Those first two years, I’m not certain I built any real relationships with students other than my football players, and even those were iffy.  I was so obsessed with that goal that I lost sight of what was happening in my classroom: lack of engagement, minimal management, and terribly ineffective teaching, all of which resulted in my contract not being renewed.  I was hurt, but thankfully I ended up getting a job teaching 8th grade at Turner Middle School, and it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Over those next 11 years, I found and refined my Why.  For me, I do this job because I want to see students go beyond their comfort zones to be challenged and pushed, so that they are adventurous, lifelong learners. That why has now expanded to include not only students, but also teachers.  While I don’t serve in an instructional coach role, I love helping teachers discover their trail to a personal summit. Inspiring students & teachers to become adventurous, life-long lovers of learners. That’s my Why.

Dave Burgess in Teach Like a Pirate mentions that we all have content that we just aren’t that crazy about, and on “those days when you don’t have passion for your content, you must consciously make the decision to focus on your professional passion.”  He goes on to talk about personal passions and how those can fire us up when we hit those doldrums in the school year. The point I want to focus on is when your Why (professional passion) and your Inspiration (Personal passion) meet & merge into one trail.

Finding that point can be tricky, but I urge you to tap into those personal passions and bring those to light in the classroom.  For me, it was finding a way to bring my love of the Indiana Jones franchise into class. I found that gamification made that possible, by providing a theme, story, and world that can be easily adapted to the social studies classes I taught.  I also have a love of our National Parks, and I made a pretty concerted effort this year to merge both of these into class, with limited success. There are elements of the National Parks I will retain within my Indiana Jones themed game, but it will not be a main thematic element.  The real trick was how do I get 13 & 14 year olds to buy into Indiana Jones when most have never seen one of the films? That’s where the professional passion kicked in! I could use the thematic elements of a professor/adventurer to inspire kids with a story for our entire class! Selling it with costumes, music, and room transformations would hook kids into our journey with exciting stories of adventure and challenges to build team unity and develop that toughness they’ll need throughout their lives.  I get to do this every day (though not always as Indiana Jones), and my teaching life has been transformed by it. I also owe a huge thanks to people like Ron Clark, Dave Burgess and other DBC Inc. authors who have provided guidance and advice through Twitter, their blogs/vlogs, and books.

Go find your Why & Inspiration, then seek out the point at which the two meet.  I bet it’s at a summit, and you’ll see a whole world of summits laid out before you when you reach it!  Keep Climbing!


Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out another amazing educator I’ve met on Twitter: John Meehan. English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia.  His classes truly reflect a personal passion for amusement parks, mud runs, and anything that gets the excitement going!  His now world-famous and viral #EggDashChallenge has stretched all over the world as teachers are amping up the engagement in their own classes thanks to his ideas.  I’ve been hugely inspired for new review games in class based on his tweets, and I’m super excited to read his book, Edrenaline Rush, which drops on May 20th from, you guessed it, DBC Inc.  John is a truly passionate and amazing educator who you need to on Twitter @MeehanEDU

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