Teachers and school leaders are goal-oriented people. Often, they strive to move up in their organization or see how far they can push themselves professionally. However, focusing on the next rung on the ladder is not always productive. Instead, taking an intentional look at your “why” allows the most authentic next steps to emerge.
One way to do so is by aligning values, goals, and passions. Below, we share an activity designed to renew your sense of purpose and help you identify areas where you might need additional reflection.
The approach stems from an activity that Chuck does with his clients as a leadership coach, which Nick built upon through interviews with more than 50 leaders about what makes them successful. Practicing it could lead to a change in location (e.g., to a new school or district), level (e.g., middle to high), or position (e.g., teacher to instructional coach, or principal to district office), or potentially to a new career.
STEP ONE: ALIGNMENT
First, take a deep dive into your values—strong beliefs that you hold and that drive your behavior. Identify what they are—for example, meaningful relationships, family, and balance. List your top three to five values in the top left corner of a piece of paper. (Brené Brown has a list of values that you might access for further inspiration; lists like this can be found on any number of websites). Then, ask yourself why you hold these beliefs. Why are meaningful relationships important to you? Why is family important to you? Take some time and space to consider your answers.
STEP TWO: GOAL SETTING
Next, consider your short- and long-term goals. Write them out in the middle of the paper so they are clearly visible; the simple act of writing down goals can greatly increase the likelihood of achieving them.
Look at each goal and consider: Why is this goal important to you? Values and goals can change over time, which is why it’s vital to revisit and refresh them and to consider our plans for achieving them. Connect each of the goals in the middle of the chart with your list of rank-ordered values on the left. Sometimes, there is more than one line connecting a goal to multiple values. Other times, there is no line at all. If either of these is the case for you, consider how and why a particular goal is significant to you, regardless of whether you’ve made lines of connection to values.
STEP THREE: IDENTIFYING PASSION
In a third column, on the right side of the page, write out what you are passionate about. List both personal and professional passions, and ask yourself why each passion is important to you. Try to connect your passions to your goals and values. Some of the most successful people talk about how their passion drives them to keep achieving their goals. It is fine if some of your passions aren’t connected to anything; it is healthy to have hobbies unrelated to other areas of your life. For example, if you’re passionate about hiking, that is probably not connected to a professional goal, but it might recharge you on the weekend and help you to work hard toward your other goals during the week.
Ideally, when our values are working in tandem with our goals and passions, that is the recipe for success. That’s the sweet zone in which we know why we are doing what we are doing, and the doing (our occupation, in this example) is fueled by the beliefs we hold. Conversely, when our actions, behaviors, and choices are not aligned with our goals, we experience dissatisfaction and disconnection. Vocationally, this can take the form of working a job that’s no longer meaningful.
STEP FOUR: REFLECT
Look back at step two and your answer to the question, “Why is this goal important to you?” You might want to be an elementary principal, for example, because you want the autonomy to implement your vision within a school community; you love working with adults and kids; you don’t want to supervise athletic events in the evening so that you can spend more time with your family; or you want an increased leadership responsibility.
With these identified objectives in mind, you can consider: Is being an elementary principal the only way to achieve these goals? Are there other positions at the district office or at an edtech company that would allow you to do the same things? Don’t limit yourself to one specific goal if there are multiple options for achieving the same satisfaction. An alternative option might align better with your values and passions.
As you conclude this reflective activity, think about the gears in a clock. For the clock to function properly, those gears must be synced correctly; otherwise, the inner workings of the clock will jam up and break down. The result? Your clock will not reflect the accurate time.
What time does your internal clock say it is? Does it feel as though you’re “in the zone”? In other words, are your short- and long-term goals clear and important to you, and do you know why? Or does it seem like there is a misalignment between your values and goals? If you find yourself in the second category, it may be time for a tune-up.