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Don't Suffer Like the Multi-Purpose Room

Have you ever worked in a school with a multi-purpose room? Was it some old classroom emptied by low enrollment, or a space jimmied into a windowless hallway? That’s where the unsold yearbooks ended up, piled on some table from 1975. That’s where your literacy interventionist tried to set up his small group space. However your school’s multi-purpose room came into existence, my guess is it evolved over time and sometimes it’s functions were at cross-purposes. Kind of difficult to run a 1:1 speech-language evaluation while someone else wants to do a brain break with 25 eight year-olds!

I think people are similar to those strange rooms too, when we think about our own multi-purposes. Personally, I feel like I have more than just one purpose on earth. I’ve always been one to ponder such things, starting when I read A Prayer for Owen Meany in high school. It’s by John Irving - have you read it? Since then, my beliefs about what my purposes are have evolved considerably, as I hope they would from age 18 until now. When I think about the major “aha!” moments in my life, I find that they were often associated with knowing that I was on the right path to fulfilling one of my life’s purposes. I live for those moments when I know I’m alive and still growing. I felt it when I gave my first introductory talk to parents at 7th grade orientation my first year on contract as a social studies teacher. I hit a homerun and it felt great. I felt it when a valued colleague took me aside after I became an assistant principal and told me he had observed that this was where I was meant to be. I felt it when I had my son Aden and married my favorite person, Rob. And, I felt it when I left my work in the public schools, the most difficult “aha!” moment I’ve had to navigate.

How do you know what your purpose is in terms of your work in education? Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, among other brilliant books, once worked as a counselor (of a sort) to underprivileged girls. After deep thought, she realized her only purpose was to give unconditional positive regard to the girls, many of whom were living in trauma-filled circumstances. I loved when she said that phrase “unconditional positive regard,” because it’s a simple purpose that she could refer back to in hard moments with her girls. It grounded her work. As a principal, I felt my main purpose was to support teachers so that they could do the most important job, which was to educate the students and build a culture of learning for the love of it! But like so many weeds around a sapling, the pressures from the state and superintendent’s office eventually began choking my ability to fulfill this purpose.

Dr. Eric Cassell, a physician who also studied philosophy and suffering, said that suffering arises with the loss of the ability to pursue purpose, and thus in suffering we face the loss of our own personal universe. There is a lot to unpack here.

Have you created your own personal universe in your school? If so, count yourself very lucky and unique and please know that your creation must not be taken for granted. Furthermore, you may have identified your purpose in education. Maybe your purpose is to instill a love for reading. Maybe your purpose is to advance the cause of inclusion and empathy. Maybe it’s to promote civic engagement and action on climate change. You’ve created a universe of good works, collaboration and most importantly, other people who share this purpose!

But I know that for many of you, it feels like you’re under attack. Or at least, your ability to pursue and meet your purpose is vulnerable at every turn. How many times have you said to those in authority “Just let me…do what I know is right for the students”? You’re pleading to be allowed to grow your universe and fulfill your purpose. You suffer professionally when you lose that ability to pursue your purpose. You suffer personally, too.

How can you cut through the noise and get back to that purpose in your classroom or building? I want to help you affirm your purpose and then reconnect with your spirit and the strength you no doubt still have deep inside of you. You’re going to need strength to fight to pursue your purposes. But you can do it! Join me in 1:1 sessions (in person, Skype or phone all work!), join a group session or buy a downloadable course to think about these things at your own pace. I can help you reconnect with your spirit, and then confidently advocate for yourself and your students’ best interests in the system I know so well. Go to the Book Online page to learn more and do not hesitate to contact me.

You don’t have to be like the picked-over discombobulated multi-purpose room in your school. You don’t have to exist in the tension of living with cross-purposes forced upon you. Just imagine how freeing it could be to act, work and live proudly with purpose again!

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