By Tom Stoner, IPLI Mentor, Principal at Kouts Middle/High School

Why am I where I am? Why do I do what I do? As I thought about those questions, I wondered where our passion comes from. I have concluded our passion comes from our “why.” I read a tweet from Jon Gordon (@jongordon11) that said, “we do not burn out; we just forget why we do what we do.”

Why are you where you are? Maybe it was the only job you could find at the time. Maybe there were not a lot of openings in your area, and your current location is where you landed. Perhaps the other sites were not a good fit for you. Me, I was not looking to leave my previous school. I was planning on retiring there. This job happened to “fall in my lap” when I ran into a friend at a training. I thought, why not? I had two telephone interviews (I was in Wisconsin fishing) and made it to the second round. Interviewed with the superintendent and a committee, was hired, and had never met the principal face to face. That was 11 years ago, and I am still here.

Why do you do what you do? That is a question I asked several people recently. I asked teachers, administrators, authors, pastors, business owners, salespeople, and community members. When I looked at the answers from all these different people, something stood out to me. There was a common theme. Except for one, they all said they wanted to serve others. They all wanted to make a difference for others and do something that mattered in someone else’s life. They wanted to give back to communities that gave so much to them. The one who did not say they wanted to serve others is an excellent friend I have known for over 20 years and owns his own construction company. He does help others, and he does give back. He did not say it.

The first person I heard talk about finding his why was Eric Thomas. In this video clip, he talks about Kevin Durant and why he plays the game the way he does. And while this is a video clip of him talking with the Miami Dolphins, it still applies to us in education. Why do we do what we do? Why do you show up day after day to work with children? Educators do not always get the recognition they deserve, yet you come in daily to work with children.

So, Why did I ask these other people (none of which works for the same school corporation I do) the question, “Why do you do what you do?” I have heard a lot of grumblings lately in the media, on social media, from parents, etc., and it all boils down to what is in it for me. It made me think about why I/we do what I/we do. Why do I/we get out of bed every morning, come to school, and work with teens? It is about serving others and giving back to the community. Last week I had a student, who was going through a tough time, tell me she hoped I would still be her principal when she graduates because she thought I was honest. That the students knew I cared about them. She told me that they get to see the real me each day. I was humbled but also proud. Proud that she was able to see my heart when hers was breaking. Proud that my students can see my why.

I watched The Secret Life Of Pets 2 with my grandsons a couple of years ago. I am generally not the type of person that sees a clip in a movie and relates it to education, but there was a clip at the end of this one that made me think of life, education, passion, and why. So many little nuggets in this clip made me think things like, “everything changes.” Yep. “Nothing stays the same for long.” Yep. “Just when you think….this is life, life finds a way of surprising you.” Yep. “Today is a big day, and nothing will be the same.” Yep. But the one that got me thinking the most. The one stuck in my head is, “You never know what life is going to throw at you, and you have two choices: run from it or run at it.”

Life has changed for us all in the last few years. Whether it has been for better or worse is up to each person. The world of education has certainly changed in the previous few years. Again, there are various opinions on whether it is bad or good, depending on whom you talk to. The one thing that has not changed is that you have two choices with life, run away from it or run at it.

Regarding school, we also have two options with the changes. We can run from it, or we can run at it. I choose to run at it. I prefer to remember why I entered this calling in the first place.

I did not go into education for the money, the fame, or the bright lights to shine on me. I went into this because I felt like I was called to make a difference in the life of children. That is my why and what fuels my passion. We all need to remember ours. We need to fuel our passion and then let that passion come through to others. Allow the students to see the excitement you have. Allow them to see your excitement for school. Yes, they will think you are a dork (maybe), but that is ok too.

 I remember watching and listening to Dave Burgess speak a few years ago. I remember the passion he had for bringing his subject to life for his students. I remember that he said sometimes you have to change the location of the class to make it work for that lesson. Where can you move a lesson to make the study more meaningful, impactful, and memorable? That is what I wish for us. I want our students to see our passion for them and school come through us. I want them to know we are here to serve them, to give back to them, to know they are important to us, and to help them succeed in this great big, scary, incredible world.

At the end of the Secret Life of Pets 2 clip, the dog says he will be brave because he is here to help his little human be brave in the big scary incredible world. Every day is a new day. Be brave. Help your students be brave to conquer the world they will enter. Remember your why and let it fuel your passion and flow through you to fuel the students.

Students would much rather be in a class with a passionate teacher than one that sits all day and is “ho hum.” They would much rather have a building administrator eager and excited about having them in the buildings. Think of different presentations that you have attended. Which ones stick with you the most? I have heard it said that there are days when teachers are the most underpaid actors working. Some days we have to act like we have that passion burning. I know I do. It is my hope for you today that you remember your why.