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 peeking 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.
I’d love to read it; so please share it in the comment section below or tweet it to me.
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 the abovementioned “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. That, to me, is one of the most persistent challenges in our work as educators.
Tweaks for a staff meeting
If you’d like to lead your department or staff through this activity, 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 group brainstorm how we might use the Everest concept to better unite and sustain our work as a staff.
Dave Stuart Jr. writes at DaveStuartJr.com and teaches in Cedar Springs, MI. On his blog, he creates weekly articles about literacy instruction, character strengths, and the inner work of teaching. He’s on Twitter, too: @davestuartjr.