Finding Inspiration: 4 Ways Teachers Can Inspire Themselves
Author: Leader in Me
October 17, 2018
As an educator, finding inspiration is just as easy as finding frustration is. Let’s be honest, teaching is hard, and it only gets harder every year. Teachers can choose to focus on the things they can’t control and, in turn, let frustration control them, or they can choose to focus on the things within their control and work on improving their influence with those around them. It’s all about how teachers approach their role in education.
Finding inspiration is all about mindset. If one has a growth mindset and a continuous-improvement approach to education and life, then inspiration is consistently present. The important part is knowing where to look and what to focus on.
Finding inspiration depends on where one is in their life or where the people around one is in their lives. Sometimes inspiration comes from something big like an inspiring movie, a touching keynote speaker, or an incredible book. Other times, finding inspiration is just knowing someone got out of bed and is present.
Very early in my educational career, I had the opportunity to work closely with a veteran teacher who had been teaching fourth grade for twelve years. There was always this special kind of “magic” in her classroom. I constantly compared myself to her and tried to be like her, only to see my lessons or classroom discussions fell short of what happened in her classroom. I remember telling her, “I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know how you have this magic that happens in your classroom every day.” She responded with, “You’ll get there. It takes time.” Then she said something that has always stuck with me and helped me shift my paradigm. She said, “I should be better than you. I’ve been teaching fourth grade for twelve years. This is your first year teaching fourth grade. If you’re doing as well as I am in your first year, then that means I’m doing something wrong.” That’s when I learned the value of celebrating where you are and the importance of letting go of comparisons.
Once we start comparing ourselves to other people, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Instead of trying to be just like this amazing educator, I discovered the importance of finding my own voice. I realized my classroom would never look just like hers, but I was going to hold on to the things I was good at and work harder at improving the things I wanted to get better at. My classroom should look different and should be a reflection of the students I’m working with and the needs they bring into my classroom every year. I stopped chasing other people’s visions and started creating my own.
Finding inspiration requires a willingness to push oneself outside of one’s comfort zone. I try to keep the following quote in mind from the book The Young Traveler’s Gift: “I will never seek comfort by being around those who have decided to be comfortable.” It reminds me about the importance of striving to improve and making sure that focusing on student learning always stays at the center of everything I do.
Outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens. I had a co-worker friend show me this graphic when she knew I was struggling with an important decision. It changed everything for me. I took a leap of faith, and I’ve never looked back. I had to push myself beyond my comfort zone if I wanted to be great at what I get to do every day. It also ensured that I avoided becoming stagnant in the field of education. The students are counting on the teachers to be there for them, and it’s important that teachers find the magic and inspiration for what we do as fast as possible.
Ask yourself the following questions: Do I focus on end results or do you focus on growth? Do I work with the people around you, or do I work against them? Do I keep lessons and ideas to myself, or do I share them with anyone and everyone who might be interested?
When we share and work together, we can accomplish great things. I know the person down the hall might take the lesson I created and do something even better with it… and that excites me. I love it when that happens, because it helps me learn something new that I can do to help my students in my classroom. My focus should always be on student learning and what I can do to help my students. Embrace these opportunities to work with and learn from the people around you. Celebrate the resourcefulness and the ideas of your co-workers. Finding inspiration in new and different perspectives creates team dynamics. Remember, finding inspiration in every opportunity can be as simple as finding inspiration in the little things around you. Finding inspiration means being present in the moment.
I make a purposeful effort to surround myself with people who make me want to be a better person. I surround myself with people who push me, who inspire me, who challenge me, and who give me something to strive for. I find people who are doing things better and differently than I am, and if the results are there to show that it’s increasing student learning or it has meaningful application, then I latch on to those people and do everything I can to learn as much as I can from them as fast as I can. I ask questions and try to do more listening than talking. I already know what I know, and if I’m the one doing the talking, then I’m definitely not the one doing the learning. The only way I’m going to learn from others is to stop talking and start listening.
Find Your People
Look around at the people on your campus and surround yourself with the people you admire and look up to; the people who are genuinely good people and who went into teaching for all the right reasons; the people who don’t see barriers in education, but consistently find workarounds to make sure they are always doing what’s best for their students. These people will become your tribe. If you have trouble finding these people on your own campus, then look within your district and make connections with the people who inspire you on other campuses. If you have trouble finding these people within your district, then look on social networks. I find some of my greatest inspiration in teaching from educators on Twitter and education groups on Facebook. Participate in Twitter chats, especially when looking for inspiration and new ideas. You’ll walk away with a renewed energy and spirit ready to try something new and exciting, and your students will thank you for it.
Look at the students who walk through your doors every day, and never forget the unique opportunity you’ve been given to help them grow and develop into their incredible future selves that have yet to be revealed. Finding inspiration around you can help you reach your true potential and can inspire the students you get to work with.
Andrews, Andy. The Young Traveler’s Gift. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2004.