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.[hr]
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.
Dana Kline says
My sentences weren’t quite so “Everest” in nature. More practical. Perhaps that’s because I am beginning my eleventh year of teaching, and each year my mind set changes a bit. So here goes… “I got into this job because I love the teaching/discovering/learning process. I hope to develop higher level thinking skills in my students this year.” Simple, right?
Dana, practical is awesome. Simple is, too 🙂 Thank you for sharing!
My sentences went like this:
1) I got into teaching because I wanted to change my students’ lives/trajectories and expose them to the beauty of the English language/texts I enjoyed as a student.
2) I hope my students learn to read, write, argue, analyze, and make inferences about complex texts proficiently and independently so that they can be model citizens and beast on their EOY assessments.
Nicole Nolin says
I got into teaching to help students. I hope my students become better writers.
Valinda Kimmel (@vrkimmel) says
Great exercise, Dave! Looking forward to your August blog “blitz”. My Defining Everest:
I got into this job (instructional coaching) because I want to change the world one relationship at a time (used to work with my own elementary students, now I support teachers).
I want to obliterate the barriers that kids face—poverty, violence, apathy, mediocrity—by working with teachers and administrators. I want to work to leverage the power of collaborating with educational peers to facilitate innovation, anticipation, and persistence in students so they are empowered to choose their own brand of learning for a lifetime.
Thanks again, Dave!
Thank you, Valinda, for always being such a strong voice of encouragement to me. You are right — impact really is one relationship at a time, both as a teacher and as an instructional coach. Get after it, Valinda!
Matt Jones says
Awesome activity to focus our mind before the avalanche of the school year descends upon us!
I became a teacher to help young people develop the skills and mindsets necessary to flourish in life, and this year I hope to inspire my freshmen (in PE and Freshman Studies) to develope the metacognitive skills and attitudes necessary to have a transformative high school experience.
Matt, a love that goal: “a transformative high school experience.” Also, I love the article you wrote on motivation; check it out, folks.
Billie Donegan says
I got into this job to make at least one kid’s brain, heart, and/or spirit a little bit better every day. (Hey, you get up Everest one step at a time.)
One step at a time is right, Billie! There aren’t any planes dropping people off up there!
Diane -- Kansas City says
I got into this job (ELL Instructional Specialist) because I wanted to share my ideas about best practices for teaching students who are also learning the English language.
When working directly with students, the intention behind my instruction is to empower students to make educated choices in academics and in life.
“Educated choices” — I appreciate that sentence because it gets at helping students to think more clearly. It is incredible how important a clear mind is to making sound decisions. That’s a tall order for any of us! Thank you, Diane.
Carol Woods says
I got into teaching because I want to touch the future one student at a time. My writing program will prepare my students for their future out in the world with training and tools so they can express themselves. My reading program will prepare them to appreciate the written word and more fully understand what others have to say.
Thank you for this question. I’m sure I’ll be asking my colleagues this question as we discuss our new year.
“Touch the future” — yes, that’s right on, Carol. Thank you for sharing!
Cara Gregory says
This is a general comment and not related to your “get ready for the school year activity,” but I’m doing that, too. This is my second year of planning alone in the summer since my BFF master teacher retired and I wanted to thank you for standing in for her 🙂 On your site alone, I located key info I needed to break down some final pesky CCSS that had been eluding me, found details to help me hone my 7th grade version of “close reading and annotation,” and most importantly, helped me figure out my vision for this year, the guiding principles that will be the framework for the work we do in my classroom. This teacher needs someone to bounce ideas off of…and this site was on my wavelength today. Thanks for the support! Enjoy the run up to Labor Day!
Wow Cara — what an honor to stand in for someone like that 🙂 Feel free to bounce ideas any time — and you, too, enjoy the run up to Labor Day! I am working in a district today that starts back with kids next Monday. I am thankful for the Labor Day law in Michigan!
Mine is pretty honest…
I got into this job because I think kids are funny, I love to keep learning and be challenged and never be bored, and I wanted the summers off.
I want the kids to feel confident and proud in their abilities, and to learn to be better people with integrity, honor, curiosity, and character. Of course I also want them to learn some good basic reading and writing and math skills.
Laura, I love how yours focuses on both literacy/math skills, and then also the “getting better at life” kinds of skills: confidence, satisfaction in hard work, character. Thank you!
I got into this job because I enjoy children.. Their enthusiasm, love of life, and the hope for a better tomorrow .
I hope to build a classroom with a sense of community in which students are there for each other. I believe this sense of community will create independent, successful learners in all areas of the curriculum.
May the community in your classroom be a place of joy, belonging, and community this year, Joanna. Cheers!
I got into this job because I love reading. I truly believe that good readers do succeed in this world. Once I got the job, I realized I loved it because of the relationships I can form between kids and reading.
I want the kids to truly understand that good writing and reading are important no matter what career they choose – auto mechanic, nurse, soldier, actor, businessman, – reading and writing leads to success.
Absolutely, Yvonne! I’m not sure if you’ve read the survey “Writing: A Ticket to Work…”, but if not, here it is.
Fatuma Hydara says
Hiya Dave! This might be my first time commenting, not sure, but I’m been following your blog for a while now. It’s been an incredible resource as I accomplished my 1st year of teaching. I’m sure it’ll continue to be as I move into year two. (Ack!)
I got into this work because I love books, stories, and words and wanted to use them to make a difference in others’ lives, as they’ve done in mine.
I want to show my kiddos that books/literature teach you the essentials of life, leading you to becoming a stronger, better version of you.
Booyah, Fatuma — you’ve got this! Year 2 can be a hard one as you’ll now be even more aware of your shortcomings — remember, that’s all normal and good! Growth mindset — better every day — failure = progress. You got this!
I love your Everest, too 🙂
Tatum Bunker says
My reason for becoming an educator is two-fold: 1) to support students as they advance in their individual potential and 2) to develop the essential skill-sets they will need to be lifelong consumers and producers of their own learning.
A good reminder as the whirlwind of a new school year approaches. Thank you!
Thank you, as always Tatum, for sharing with the community! “Consumers and producers of their own learning” — yes, I resonate with that.
I got into this job because I think I can help teachers be even better at what they do. I hope that my work makes teachers become critical planners, avid listeners, spontaneous executors and restless learners
I like those four descriptions of great teachers!
David Bever says
I enjoyed your sectionals at SDE in Las Vegas. This will be year 43 for teaching so I am still looking for ways to be motivated. I think that middle school students have lots of energy and are motivated to learn. How we do that is a constant challenge. I desire that my students become self-motivated, have a love for learning, a desire to be readers!
David, thanks so much for checking out my work in Vegas and following up through the blog! I like your positive presuppositions about middle schoolers — I think you are right, sir! My hat is off to you for 43 years of serving kids and the community. Cheers!
I became a teacher after 17 years in the retail world. That felt like what I imagine living in Hell would be like; while teaching has been the closest thing to Heaven this side of Heaven that I can imagine 🙂
I got into teaching because I wanted to do something meaningful with my life’s work, and to maybe, hopefully, kind of, a little bit inspire my students to do the same with theirs.
My goals this year are as follows (my mission statement, if you will):
1) I want the students to find their oral voice by formal and informal speaking in and out of the classroom.
2) I want the students to find their written voice by formal and informal writing in and out of the classroom.
3)I want the students to develop a passion for reading, or, at least be able to read well and effectively, in and out of the classroom.
4) I want the students to continually be thinking, support their thinking with evidence and reason, and to be able to articulate their thinking to others through writing and speaking in and out of the classroom.
5) I want the students to do hard work, to understand the benefits of hard work, and the see the fruits of their hard work in and out of the classroom.
6) I want the students to go big on argument, written and oral, in every unit with a chance to have an in-class Pop Up Debate at least once a month.
Thanks for all you do,
And may the force be with you,
I got into this job midlife to have a more fulfilling and passion filled career. I hope that this year I show my students how much I care for them and that they learn how to ” think” before they move on to high school and beyond. (I teach 8th grade at a K-8 school)
I got into this job to be in the right place at the right time whenever a student needed an adult to care, as some of my teachers were when my mother passed away in high school. This year, I hope my work leads students to greater questioning and critical thinking that sets them up to boldly take on the big issues they encounter outside of the classroom.
I became a teacher because I love learning and hope to share that passion. This year I hope students will leave my class with skills they will use forever!
I got into education to defend and expand every student’s civil right to a great education. I work to build civic competence so my students can take over from today’s adults and build a world of compassion and equity.
Yes, Clover — a civil right it is. Thank you for sharing this.
Lin Steele says
I got into education because it was a passion I had from the time I was a child myself–I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to work with kids and help them learn to read (my favorite thing to do *ever* is read myself, and there’s nothing more exciting than teaching a child to read). From there, I moved to reaching more students by supporting teachers.
My hope this year is that I can inspire and engage teachers in thinking beyond the “workload” to the underlying reasons for the work we do. I’ve already seen teachers feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, and the year hasn’t even officially started yet. I want to move past the complaints, and toward constructive, collaborative work for the betterment of our kids.
Lin, I love this. Godspeed in that work this year.
Mandy Falgout says
I became a teacher to share my passion of learning and to care for students.
My hope for this year and every year: my students love to learn, become problem solvers and know that they’re loved and cared for.
Is this too fluffy? I want them to be better humans b/c of me.
Teresa Linders says
I got in to this job because I love to learn, I’m a voracious reader, I love new ideas, and I love teaching and supporting others in their learning process. I switched from corporate training and development to elementary instruction so I would be on my children’s schedule.
This year, I hope every member of the classroom community feels safe, accepted, cared for and supported. I hope every child makes growth in their academics and in their character.
Dave Stuart Jr. (@davestuartjr) says
Lovely, Teresa — thank you for sharing this.
I became a teacher to inspire students to grow and overcome the challenges they will face, so this year I hope they will lean into the uncomfortable tension to become better problems solvers and develop perseverance to overcome difficulties.
Dave Stuart Jr. says