I first heard that phrase 20 (or so) years ago, as a summer camp leader deep in the dunes of Michigan. I'd joined the staff of the American Youth Foundation's (www.ayf.com) Camp Miniwanca because I needed a summer job, but I had no idea that what I'd really signed up for was a course in how to be a better teacher - and a better human being. I've stayed with the organization as a leader, supporter, and now as a camper parent, but it was really years before I really understood what I'd learned while meditating on that seemingly simple motto. Now, as we roll into another autumn and another school year, it feels like a good time to pass it along.
What does it mean to be my best professional self? I think it starts with understanding who "my own self" is - what I stand for, what I believe, what I know to be true. I know that "my own (professional) self" is about relationships and community. My professional self believes in servant leadership and asking more than telling. I believe in pedagogy before technology with the goal of using each to magnify the other. I believe in taking the work seriously, but not in taking myself too seriously. That's who I am as an educator. (To put it in academic terms, I'm a hybrid of Constructivist, Humanist, and Progressive philosophies.)
at my very best...
I'm a concrete thinker, so this part makes me wonder, what does it look like, sound like, feel like when I'm at my very best? In my mind, the picture is one of me in a circle of people laughing over chart pack and markers with devices and books and papers scattered about. It's hard work in evidence, marked by goodwill and respect. It feels clear and productive and intentional and thoughtful and respectful. That's me at my very best, but to do that - to maintain clarity and intentionality and respect - I need balance. I have to be intentional and clear about how I spend my professional time and energy. I need to take the time to set professional priorities and to be intentional about what I'm okay with not accomplishing. (That's a big one for me since, like most teachers, I tend to want to do everything and to do it all very, very well.) Finally, I need to be respectful of myself - my physical, intellectual, and emotional self - and keep my eyes open for signs that I need a break.
But to be that, all the time? Not, like 80% of the time? Could I say 80% BEST and then 10% pretty good with that last 10% reserved for the days I'd just rather not? Because, honestly, all the time? That seems like a tall order. But here's the thing - this is a goal, an aspiration, not a mandate. After all, it's not like there's a Best Self-police out there, looking to catch me in a moment of weakness. I'm going to be gentle with myself when I fall short of my best, much as I would a dear colleague or friend. I'm going to remember that sometimes the best thing I can do - personally and professionally - is let myself go to sleep, knowing I will get another crack at that whole "best self" thing tomorrow.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.