In her bestselling memoir Bossy Pants, Tina Fey shares a lesson from her time at SNL:
Don’t hire anyone you wouldn’t want to run into in the hallway at three in the morning.
It doesn’t take an Emmy-winning comedy writer to know that talent and skill are just two factors among many that determine if a person is right for a position. Cultural fit matters too.
So, this is good advice for those tasked with adding new talent to an organization—but what does it mean for you, the job-seeker?
Well, if you flip perspectives, the sentiment is the same. You want to work for (and with) people you wouldn’t mind running into at a broken copier 10 minutes before class, or sitting next to on a three-hour bus ride to the zoo—the teacher equivalent of 3 AM hallway encounters.
Even better: You want to work for and with people who encourage, inspire, and support you—and who share your beliefs about what’s possible for you and your students to achieve.
But, how can you find these people—or, more accurately, the place where these people work—so you can join them?
Let’s turn for a moment from one great thinker to another.
Katherine Merseth is a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who lent her perspective to the recent Kauffman Foundation Sketchbook film, “Fixing Schools”:
Across the country, we do not have a fundamental agreement on the purpose of education.
Why do we have schools?
You may have a very different answer than I have, and we don’t talk about that. We just sort of pretend that we’re all in this business together and so our differences simmer. You hold onto your beliefs, I hold onto my beliefs.
The result, according to Merseth, is teachers, students, parents, administrators, and local citizens who are not on the same page, and therefore, headed toward trouble.
But, what if, instead of holding onto your beliefs, you shared them? And, by sharing them, you found others who believe the same?
Reflecting on your beliefs
Whether you realize it or not, your beliefs about education keep you motivated, help you make decisions, inform your instruction, and influence those around you, including students, parents, and colleagues.
For example, if you believe that education is about preparing children to be informed and engaged citizens above all else, that’s part of your “why.” It’s why you rise at the crack of dawn to finish grading papers, to tweak the day’s lesson plans, and to read the morning paper so you can discuss current events with your students.
It’s also why you support your school establishing partnerships with community groups, plan service learning projects for your students, and e-mail similar opportunities and ideas to your colleagues.
In the day-to-day hustle of teaching, though, it’s easy to lose touch with your core beliefs, to forget why you’re doing what you’re doing.
To prevent that, here are a couple ways to get back in touch with your core beliefs.
#1: Journal. Free-writing, as journaling is sometimes called, allows you to explore your thoughts, but also fine-tunes those thoughts. So, as you journal, write about your education-related experiences both as a teacher and a student, about books you’ve read, and about conversations you’ve had with students, administrators, colleagues, and your own teachers and professors. Rediscover the variety of beliefs people have about education, and zoom in on where yours fall along the spectrum.
#2: Start conversations. Ask questions about others’ opinions. Be provocative but open minded. Be curious, inquisitive, investigative, critical. Teachers ask the best questions. So, do what you best.
Ask questions like:
- Why do you teach?
- What do you believe to be true (and not true) about teaching?
- How have your beliefs changed over time?
- What experiences have shaped your beliefs?
- How do your beliefs influence your day-to-day activities?
- In what ways have your beliefs been challenged? And, how have you responded?
And, when you’re ready, practice articulating your own beliefs in response to others’—whether they are strikingly similar or diametrically opposed.
Sharing your beliefs
After reflecting on and establishing your beliefs, it’s equally important to communicate them. Absent doing this, as Merseth cautions, your beliefs will simmer below the surface. Communicating them, on the other hand, will help you find (and perhaps ultimately, teach with) those who share them.
Some ideas for communicating your beliefs:
- Film a teaching video—It’s one thing to tell others what you believe, but it’s a lot more powerful to actually show them. So, film and share one of your “anchor” lessons, a lesson that reveals to school leaders and others your core beliefs in action.
- Film a “talking head” video—Maybe you don’t have a classroom or a lesson to film, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have strong beliefs. Simply film yourself talking into a camera about those beliefs. Be careful not to ramble, but clearly and passionately outline what you believe and why you believe it.
- Share your students’ work—The whole point of your beliefs about education is that they influence the way you teach. So, share some of the student work that directly reflects your own beliefs—such as a project where students used technology or where students collaborated to solve a real-world problem.
- Write a teaching statement or philosophy—In one or two pages, share why you teach, what you teach, how you teach, and how you measure your effectiveness. Get started with this resource from The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis.
- Start a blog—It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but regularly writing about and sharing your work with an audience of other educators not only helps you reflect on your beliefs on a regular basis, but can also position you as an advocate, or even an expert, for your way of teaching. It’s also a great way to meet people and get feedback on your beliefs.
- Engage on social media—Similar to blogging, joining the conversation on Twitter or Facebook can help you find and get acquainted with a community of educators who are vocal about their beliefs, and welcome the voices of others who are as well. Start with a Tweet chat; find a whole list of them here.
- Make a list—Whether you do it “Top 10” style or use “This I Believe” as a model, lists are great ways to organize your thoughts, and communicate them in a way that others find easy to read and share.
- Create Pinterest boards—If you’re more of a visual communicator, fill boards on Pinterest with images and ideas that capture your beliefs. As examples, check out this one, this one, and this one.
- Complete the Core Beliefs Profile—myEDmatch is founded on the belief that your beliefs matter. In fact, they matter so much that when a teacher and school with shared beliefs join forces, student outcomes improve. Complete the profile and get matched to good-fit schools today.
Do you have other great ideas for sharing beliefs? Let us hear them in the comments.
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