Teaching

What will you leave your students, family when you’re gone?

Educators put lots of emphasis on planning instruction, but we rarely plan our lives and legacy in the same way. Here are some thoughts on the topic. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

Educators put lots of emphasis on planning instruction, but we rarely plan our lives and legacy in the same way. Here are some thoughts on the topic. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

Have you ever thought what your funeral will be like? Who will be there? What will people say about you? What will your loved ones remember about you?

Thinking about these things can make us feel morbid or sad or frightened. But thinking about our last days can help us envision the impact we’re having on the people around us.

If you’re like me, then lesson planning, unit planning and even yearlong (and multi-year) curriculum planning are pretty common. What isn’t common is life planning, even legacy planning.

So many of us think about a planning and executing a school year in isolation. We rarely think about an entire career in education. What will be our impact? What will we leave behind? What will we give our students, our colleagues and others we come in contact with?

I’m reading a book called “Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want,” written by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. It’s about how we can create a life plan, helping us to ensure that we get what we need out of life and make the kind of impact we hope for.

Reverse curriculum planning/lesson planning isn’t a new concept in education. Begin with the end in mind and create units and lessons that best help students reach the goal.

How do we determine our priorities? And how to we make sure they're impacting our lives the way they should? (Click for full-size image.) (Sketch by Matt Miller)

How do we determine our priorities? And how to we make sure they’re impacting our lives the way they should? (Click for full-size image.) (Sketch by Matt Miller)

But what about our lives? As the authors say in “Living Forward,” we often put much more meticulous planning into our vacations than we do on planning the overall shape of our lives.

In this blog, I love to provide practical ideas for helping you “Ditch That Textbook” in the classroom. But I also like to look at the “textbook” ways we go about our lives as educators and how we must change to keep up with the times.

This is one of those ways. So many of us are educators because we want to make a difference and an impact.

Why not make a plan to help us get there?

Here are some of my key takeaways from “Living Forward” that I think apply to our lives as educators:

1. People lose their way when they lose their why. This is possibly my favorite quote from the “Living Forward” book. It’s so easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the day-to-day in education. It’s hard to see the forest when you’re in the middle of the trees. When we remember why we do what we do, it helps keep us centered. (Sometimes, sticky notes can help with that!)

2. Learn to say “no.” I’ve struggled with this my whole life. I’m a bit of a people pleaser, and I don’t like to pass up a great opportunity. But saying “yes” to something actually means saying “no” to something else. Whenever I commit to someone’s request, I’m saying “no” to time to myself and time with my family and friends. I have had the hardest time seeing that my whole life. From the book: “If you don’t figure out how to say no to good, you won’t get to say yes to the great.”

Consider the legacy that you want to to leave when it's all said and done. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

Consider the legacy that you want to to leave when it’s all said and done. (Click to see full-size image.) (Sketch by Matt Miller)

3. Write your own eulogy. I know, I’m getting back to the topic of death again. But without a clear perspective of what our goal is, it’s hard to chart a course to it. The book’s authors suggest that we write a version of our own eulogy (the speech about us given at our funeral). They encourage us to:

  • think about who will be there
  • describe how we want to be remembered by each group of people there (i.e. family, friends, co-workers, students, etc.)
  • write those remembrances as clearly and compellingly as possible

Thinking of what people think of us can make us squeamish. We might think, “I don’t want to live my life in order to get as many people to my funeral as possible. Life isn’t a popularity contest.” That’s true. What so many of us want to leave, though, is an impact. When you’ve done that — when you’ve made a difference in people’s lives — they want to say “thank you.” That’s natural. If we’ve made the kind of difference we seek to make, this is a natural by-product.

4. Ask the right questions. When Michael Hyatt, one of the book’s authors, once broke his ankle, he thought, “Why does this have to happen now?” and “What did I do to deserve this?”. Then he realized those questions didn’t serve him at all. He later thought, “What does this experience make possible?”, which was some rest in a very hectic part of his life. His first questions easily put him in a very negative place, where the later question — “What does this experience make possible?” was empowering.

Very soon, I’ll be sitting down to work through the steps prescribed in this book to make my own life plan. I have bigger hopes for my life than “go to work, come home, repeat.” I want to make sure my life is a well-lived one when I look back on it. If I want to get there, I’d better have a plan.

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