By: Shannon Buerk, Founder and CEO of engage2learn
I have always loved memorials that serve as reminders of pivot points in our history. When our path is challenging, we need reminders of why we do what we are doing, especially in public education where the trajectory of students’ lives is at stake! Being an educator is hard. When doing the right things for learners, challenges and opposition abound. Do you have a consistent way to connect back to your “why” so that you don’t get burned out? I don’t do it often enough, but I decided to blog about it today so that it is in writing. Please respond with your “why,” which is likely to inspire others!
I became a teacher for one reason: I wanted to ensure that fewer kids would have the experience that my sister had in our school system. I believe that all people have unique gifts. I know my sister certainly does too, yet her 16,000+ hours of K-12 school experience devalued her curiosity, her creativity, and her spatial intelligence. While I graduated valedictorian, my sister – just 16 months my junior – dropped out of high school during her junior year. She later got her GED, but without a comprehensive education, her life has been hard. For that reason alone, I decided to become a teacher and create a classroom environment where all learners could discover and develop their gifts. In my classrooms with secondary students, many of whom were unsuccessful in traditional learning environments prior to joining my class, I tapped into their individual learning styles, utilized multiple intelligences theory, and differentiated the classroom environment itself, my instructional strategies, and the types of assessment I utilized. I loved seeing my high school students blossom as they realized they were smart! As a result, they began to have hope for their futures because of experiencing success in my classroom.
The reasons for my next steps in public education had to do with extending my impact to more learners. I started consulting when I was just 22-years-old because my 4-time exit exam failures, who were high school seniors by that time, were having so much success that other educators wanted to know what I was doing! I started sharing the strategies that made those students into successful graduates in only one semester. I later became an administrator in a Texas public school district to simply have more impact on learners and their learning environment. As the Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning and Associate Superintendent of Strategic Initiatives, I had the opportunity to help cast the vision and support the implementation of that vision for a learner-centered experience for thousands of learners.
FInally, I founded engage2learn because I realized, from my experience as an educational leader, that it was difficult to innovate while also “flying the plane” every day to maintain normal operations. When I launched e2L, the “choice” movement seemed to be the only alternative to changing the culture of public education. Interestingly enough, I also had experience starting a choice campus in a district, yet I felt an urgency to provide a solution to neighborhood public schools that wasn’t based on choice. For one, the percentage of learners that can and will make a choice is small, which means that we are still not addressing the largest percentage of our youth. As importantly, communities and schools have a symbiotic relationship;if we only use choice campuses as our next generation of public education, we also risk damaging the fabric of local communities! I wanted to prove that we could shift the culture of a neighborhood school and help districts to do so without gutting it or hiring from scratch, because neither is a scalable or sustainable solution for all of public education. I am excited today to say that we have proven that our mission is to ensure that the neighborhood, public school is the first choice for every family, and we are making that mission a reality in many districts.
I always try to seek right counsel. The three pivot points in my life, detailed above, have been callings for me. I hope that I am using my God-given gifts in the way He intended and, as a result, more of our youth will have the opportunities to do the same. What is your why? Please do one of the following: share it here; tell it to your friends, family and colleagues; or at the very least reflect on it so that you, too, can rejuvenate yourself to follow your passion for another day!
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