Posts Tagged ‘Purpose’

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Challenge

February 6, 2016 1 comment

Jason James issued this blogger challenge to me, so why not. I have about five other blogs in my head right now in addition to all the work stuff I need to be doing, but I like these. They bring us together as a blogging and #oklaed community.

What has been your ONE biggest struggle during this school year?

One? Just acclimating to any new job is a big deal, but moving to a new district as a first-time superintendent is an over-arching challenge with layers of challenges beneath it.

I’m going to say that finding balance has been hard. I’m expected to be active in all facets of the community. I want to be in schools and getting to know teachers and students as much as I can. I want to be at events – not just to be visible, but because I really enjoy immersing myself in the culture of our various schools. I also need to learn the parts of my job that are unfamiliar to me. I spent seven years over curriculum in Moore. I have a dissertation in school finance (but probably more things I don’t know in that world than things I do). I’m trying to find the sweet spot in our bonding capabilities so that we can move on our next round of projects. I’m still teaching C&I at Southern Nazarene (because  teaching feeds my soul). I’ve even continued blogging – more now, since my frustration with the state is mounting again (though it’s directed at different offices). And then there’s a personal life. I’d like one of those. I seem to remember enjoying that at some point. It’ll come together at some point, though. This is year one. It gets better, right?

This is where other superintendents chime in with all the reassuring comments.

Share TWO accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.

I’m tempted to highlight my knockerball prowess. Or maybe appearing on Flashpoint. As fun as those were, I have to say that mine are more social media related.

First is the night I co-moderated an #oklaed chat with three Mid-Del students. They were insightful and witty, and they’ve been in and out of our chats ever since. My predecessor, Dr. Pam Deering put together my student advisory group, In the Mix. She left a lot of things headed in the right direction for me this summer. This may be the best one.

Second would be the #GiveItBackOK campaign that I had a part in starting through social media. It wasn’t my idea alone, but I have been fortunate to be able to give interviews and support it. Several districts’ foundations have set up donations campaigns for it. Our own foundation went through a leadership transition around that time, but donations keep coming in with the hashtag announced. While this doesn’t restore the hole in our state funding, and it doesn’t help us give teachers the much-needed raises they deserve, it helps us support our most creative, motivated, and innovative teachers with the projects they want to do for their students. Sometimes I forget the power of social media and need a reminder like this.

What are THREE things that you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?

First, I want to figure out as many cuts as possible to make that don’t impact the number of teaching positions we have next year. We know we will have to make cuts, but I don’t have to like it. I’ll go kicking and screaming into the process, and we’ll get through it. It’s going to impact teaching and learning, though, no matter how we slice it.

Second, I want to help find candidates to run for the Legislature so there won’t be so many uncontested races this time around. Remember, in 2014, only 49 of 126 seats that were up for election even had to be on the ballot. It’s like we’re taking Democracy for granted.

Third, I want to find ways to unburden our teachers and principals. Our job as central office people should be to shoulder the mandates that our Legislature gives us. Maybe we can help schools understand that teaching is the best test prep – way better than designated (or pre-packaged) test prep. The sooner we can get back to just letting teachers teach, the better.

Give FOUR reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.

Obviously, I’m a stubborn mule sometimes. I just can’t take those greener pastures. Mainly, I just love kids. Still, I look at my desk sometimes and can’t see anything that helps me remember why I majored in English and thrived in this profession. So I go out and find it. Allow me to elaborate.

  1. Kids
    IMG_3087 (1)
  2. Teachers
  3. #oklaedCBXEy-fUUAAnwMu
  4. Words


My response to the #oneword challenge last month was purpose. Educating children is my purpose. Helping the people who spend every day with kids is my purpose. It’s who I am, plain and simple.

Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?

I’m going to give a cop-out answer here. Rather than challenging current bloggers, I’m going to challenge groups of people who need to see what happens when they use their words. It’s powerful and transformative. It changes me more than I change anyone else.

  1. Any of my current and former SNU students. I’m not saying you’ll get bonus points for this, but what do you think I’ve been having you do by writing class reflections with hashtags like #onecoolthing all semester?
  2. Any of my co-workers in Mid-Del, especially those in leadership positions. Remember who your boss is. Remember that I don’t have to always be right or have your agreement. Speak your mind. Put it in writing. We are a community of diverse, intellectual thinkers.
  3. Joy Hofmeister. Ok, she’s not a group of people, but I’d love to hear what she thinks – not on policy, we hear that all the time. I just think she’s at her best in moments like these when we get to hear her riff.
  4. First year superintendents. I don’t know about the rest of the people in the first-year superintendents’ program, but I find plenty of time to catch up on emails and work on my blog during these sessions. We have another one coming up on the 24th. Have something out by then.
  5. Any legislator who vehemently claims to support public education. I probably don’t have to explain why.

Why Teach Here? Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

A few weeks ago, I answered the blogger challenge, Why Teach, and ended with a promise to write a sequel, Why Teach Here? Well, since then, I’ve been a little distracted. I’ve started and stopped several times.

One distraction in particular has been the adjunct class I teach for Southern Nazarene University. This past week, I showed my grad students this 10 minute clip discussing motivation.

It’s been on the Internet for years. Rob Miller even wrote about it (and the book Drive by Daniel Pink that inspired it) back in 2013. In the first few minutes of the video, the speaker talks about the research on incentives and how poorly they serve as motivators. Our take in class this Wednesday night was that money is important, but that people who have a job they love would need significant sums of money to leave what they’re doing. In other words, if you are a teacher and love your job, you’re not going to a neighboring district for a $500 or even $1,000 pay raise. The amount of money that it would take to disrupt their lives was varied, but in all cases, much more significant than that.

After we finished the video, we went back to the five minute mark and listened to what I consider to be the key takeaway.

Drive - Motivation

The screenshot shows three factors that Pink says lead to better performance and personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. But what does that have to do with this post?

Using this framework, I’m going to try to answer the question Why Teach Here? in a general sense – rather than trying to sell you on a specific district or school.


As a teacher, you want to know that you work for a district and for people who value the unique qualities you bring to the classroom. The more decisions that are taken out of your hands, the less comfortable you become. Yes, there will be mandates – local, state, federal. No teacher has absolute autonomy. Districts and schools do, however, have some discretion over how to implement those requirements – or how many more to add.

The key to achieving this balance is to get teachers involved in agreeing to common expectations in a school. What are all teachers expected to do? What decisions to teachers get to make for themselves? A high-performing school with many veteran teachers can slide that continuum pretty far to the high-autonomy side. Too often, though, leaders will take over a school and want to make a huge imprint right away – in the process, damaging many of the conditions that make veteran teachers want to stay where they are.

Additionally, we need to realize that just as no two students are exactly the same, neither are any two teachers. We all have gifts and skills that make us who we are. No student ever wants to hear, I wish you were more like so and so. Teachers don’t either. I can’t teach English the exact same way as the people I admire the most in my discipline. My work is informed by their example, and I have appropriated many of their ideas – always with my own spin, though.

In class, I like to say that our goal for Curriculum & Instruction should be to get people on the same page without literally getting them on the same page. (If you know me and how much I detest the overuse of the word literally, then you understand how serious I am right now.) We need a common set of goals across the state for subjects such as fourth grade math. These are the standards. We may exceed them, if our students are ready and willing. We may improvise in how we reach them. We just shouldn’t be carbon copies of the next classroom, school, or district.


Pink says that mastery manifests as the desire to get better at stuff – or words to that effect. Think about that for a minute. If you are an exceptional teacher, you were either born that way or you worked really hard to get there. For most of us, it was the latter. We had principals who supported high-quality professional development and allowed us to take risks. We had colleagues who were experts in the state or nation in our disciplines. We were young and teamed with veterans who never lost their idealism.

Even if we were rock stars as young teachers, with shining moments that set us apart in our buildings, how many great days did we have in a year? I can still remember my first year teaching. Before school started in August, we had a week-long training from the Oklahoma Writing Project in writing across the curriculum. I had activities that I could use for weeks and ideas that I could modify for other purposes. I had that principal who supported me. I had that eighth grade team that collaborated for the best interest of our students. Still I believe I had more days that year in which I struggled than days in which I didn’t. The struggle fueled my desire to learn – to get better at stuff.

Think of the best teacher you ever had growing up. Was he/she better with content or better with people? One of my all-time favorites, Bill Fix from Norman High School, was my Physics teacher in 12th grade. His class was the first time I ever enjoyed math. Yes, I know Physics is a science course, but there’s a ton of math in there too. I had always done well in math, but never enjoyed it. Mr. Fix was good at teaching the content, but he was also good with people. It was, for me, the perfect mixture of lecture (probably about 15%), deskwork (maybe another 15%), labs (65%) and tests/quizzes (at most 5%). We did stuff. We launched things across the room and then worked with our groups to determine how the different variables worked together. We didn’t look up formulas and then take off to the lab. We did the labs and then worked to create the formulas. When it was frustrating, he made it less so. When we got it right, even though he’d seen it before a hundred times, he was thrilled for us.

I think Bill Fix enjoyed teaching because he was good at it. Or maybe he was good at it because he enjoyed it. Either way, it worked for me. What also probably worked for him was that he had the autonomy to develop the mastery he needed to be successful in the classroom.

No one can hand you a packaged curriculum and tell you to master it as a teacher. That’s not how it works. You have to find your own way, and for each of us, the path to mastery is different.


The last quality ties back nicely to Mindy’s original challenge and some of the responses to it:

“no personal reward in my career is as meaningful as when one of my students takes what he or she has learned and uses it to impact their world.” – David Burton

“I teach because I believe in children and families.  I believe that community and relationships can have a positive effect on education and vice versa.“ – Room 20 Awesome

“I want to make a positive impact on the next generation.  I did this for years in public high schools, teaching math and coaching soccer.  Each year was fun and different, the students were new (most of them) to me and we would start our year long journey.  I enjoyed coaching soccer as well.  I have had the opportunity to coach both boys and girls and they were fun young people to be around.  I did not get into teaching to coach soccer, far from it.  I knew nothing about soccer when I first started.  Soccer coaching wasn’t who I was, it was another place that I was able to teach.” – Scott Haselwood

All of these are great examples of how we as educators find and restore our sense of purpose. In spite of the mandates, the interlopers who want to bless our profession with a corporate style of management, and the salaries that lead many teachers to take second jobs, we do what we do because we know it matters. That’s our purpose. That’s our drive.

Why Teach Here?

All three qualities work together. When one expands, the other two seem to expand with it. When one contracts, so fall the other two. If you love your job you likely have at least an abundance of two of these things. If it’s only two, please tell me that purpose is one of them. On the other hand, if you don’t love your job, or if you’re an administrator whose teachers don’t love their jobs, think about ways to increase at least one of these three traits.

One more thing: if autonomy, mastery, and purpose matter to you, imagine how much they matter to your students.  Keep that in mind as summer winds down over the next few weeks.

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