Before your first staff meeting comes and starts the school year stress, take five minutes to shoot from the gut and get your head and heart straightened out with this simple exercise. You won't get any copies made or a class blog set up or a curriculum mapped or whatever other urgent tasks assail you while you're doing this, but it will help you think more clearly about the things you choose to do this school year.
And if you're the one planning that first staff meeting, this might be a good place to start!
The Defining Everest Activity
First, answer the following questions — in writing. There are two rules: You can only write a sentence for each one, and you only have one minute.
Here are the questions:
- Why did you get into this job?
- What is it that you hope your work with students accomplishes this school year?
Did you do it? I'll wait.
(psst… no peaking until you're done.)
Here's mine: I got into this job to have an impact, so this year, I want my students to grow into better thinkers, readers, writers, speakers, and people as we learn world history together.
Or: I entered teaching to promote the long-term flourishing of students, so this year I want to serve my students as both the freshmen they are now and the middle-aged adults they'll be in twenty years.
Or: My hope is that my class will be a small contributor to students living responsible, joyful lives engaged in meaningful work.
What is yours?
I'd love to read it; share in the comments below.
The point is not a perfect sentence or showing off; this isn't necessarily for a bulletin board (although that's not a bad idea; I've had that “better thinkers, writers, etc.” on one of my boards for years). The point is defining your Everest so that, whatever storms or avalanches or equipment failures come this year, you'll be more likely to withstand them while keeping your eyes on what your work is all about.
Commit to the peak
Now, do something with that sentence — write it on an index card; turn it into the background of your phone or your school computer; share it with a trusted colleague. Do something with it that will allow this sentence to guide you when the storms of the school year come and start stressing you out.
When the curriculum blows up, you need only ask yourself: how do we keep on toward that sentence?
When classroom management hits the fan, ask yourself: how can my classroom management plan get us closer to that sentence?
Everything becomes informed by that sentence, by that Everest.
Don't use it as an excuse to completely disregard your school's curriculum; this isn't an excuse to pretend that we're omniscient seers who need no external wisdom.
I'm just saying that you got into this job for a reason, and too often we let the school year disabuse us of why we started out on this journey in the first place.
Tweaks for a staff meeting
If you're doing this with a staff, I'd recommend having folks sit in table groups; after they're done writing, they take turns at their table groups sharing out their sentences. During this initial share-out, no cross talk — just let the sentences be the sentences. I'd then have the groups brainstorm how we might use the Everest concept to better unite and sustain our work as a staff.
Thank you to Tenzing Norgay, Sir Edmund Hillary, and the countless others who have captured my imagination with their ascents of Mt. Everest. Also — tangent alert — I'm excited about this upcoming film. It's based on the same events recounted in Jon Krakauer's incredible Into Thin Air. All right — I'm done nerding out about Everest now.