All Articles Education Insights Top 3 ways to help teachers reconnect with their “why”

Top 3 ways to help teachers reconnect with their “why”

Relocating -- or redefining -- your "why" can help teachers reduce burnout and regain their passions for teaching.

7 min read


Polina Zimmerman/Pexels post-it sign teachers find their "why"

Polina Zimmerman/Pexels

Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on the hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.

Throughout the course of the pandemic, we learned just how resilient teachers are. In an instant, their entire profession changed, and they had no choice but to adapt and keep going. Now, nearly three years later, it’s no surprise that teachers are extremely burned out. In fact, a survey earlier this year shows that over 50% of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned. 

Joni Degner teachers' why

With the new school year getting into full swing, helping teachers to reconnect with their “why” is essential. The reason a teacher becomes a teacher isn’t always the same reason that keeps them teaching. As teachers become more seasoned in their content and connect with a variety of students, families and colleagues, the “why” sometimes changes — it becomes deeper and wider. Hardships like staffing shortages, budget cuts, and the wear and tear of a global pandemic can obscure the “why” and make it difficult to find at a time when teachers need it most. For schools to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers, they must provide them with the very best support. 

Teachers’ “why” starts with Passion Profile 

Helping teachers remember why they got into teaching in the first place is the guiding principle that forms their “why.” One of my favorite protocols to run with a group of teachers is called Passion Profiles. It’s an impactful exercise that can be done in small or large groups, and it gives teachers the opportunity to contemplate, remember and reconnect to their work. Even better, it can be a powerful exercise in connecting with colleagues. 

As teachers choose one of the eight Passion Profiles, they will also find colleagues who share the same Passion Profile. It might be the desire to be a positive influence in the life of a learner, a passion for a particular subject, determination to create change or something else entirely. This is something that is personal to them.

Offering an opportunity to intentionally connect to their greatest passion can reinvigorate teachers’ drive and sustain their efforts even in the face of adversity. This sort of exercise also gives teachers the chance to reflect on how their “why” has evolved or changed completely, which is normal and expected. 

Next, teachers should try to recall a moment of change or growth for a student that they’ve helped. Maybe it was seeing a struggling reader develop into a confident reader. Or implementing accessibility tools that made the classroom environment more inclusive for all. These are all major moments in a teaching career that can and should be used as motivation to continue. Seeing the impact they have on their students is one of the greatest feelings as an educator. We should help teachers use their successes to spur them on in those moments of self-doubt or challenge.  

Carving out “why” time is help

Third, encourage teachers to set aside time each quarter of the school year to revisit their ‘“why.” 

This could include connecting with colleagues who share similar reasons for why they chose to become an educator. Additionally, they could connect with other educators that have a different “why” to hear their insights and give them inspiration for reevaluating theirs. 

Many educators continue to face the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and staff shortages. Speaking with other teachers can give them a sense of relief to know they are not alone. Something as simple as staying a few minutes later with colleagues to exchange highlights about their day can be beneficial. Sharing one good thing that happened can help spark more positive conversations.

It is important to acknowledge that educators already spend a great deal of their time in the classroom and doing work at home. So while these types of conversations can be beneficial, they should not be a requirement.

Make time for self-care, however small  

In a recent study, 64% of respondents shared that self-care practices provide a much-needed boost to their self-confidence. Additionally, 2 in 3 people felt more productive. Self-care is important, especially for teachers. A few ways we can encourage teachers to practice self-care are:

  • Gather a teacher circle. Education can be an isolating profession. Teachers often do not have much time to connect with their colleagues throughout the day. Plus, due to the high demands of their job, it can be tempting to use any free time they have to catch up on grading. It is crucial for teachers to find a few colleagues they feel safe disclosing information with — whether it is chatting about the day, sharing challenges or stories, laughing or checking in on each other. These make all the difference and lighten the load.
  • Explore other interests. Teachers often find it hard to relax once the school day has ended. It is important for their own well-being that they take time to do things that bring them joy outside of the classroom. Whether that is listening to a podcast or music, trying a new recipe or getting some exercise, these little moments of joy gain traction and momentum over time.
  • Celebrate each other. School districts should organize at least one day out of the year for teachers to get together and de-stress. During this day, teachers should feel free to share challenges they are experiencing in the classroom while also celebrating each other’s achievements and collaborating to find solutions.

Increase district-level or leadership-level support 

It’s no secret that a teacher shortage is underway, but having district and leadership support can go a long way in teacher retention. Thirty-five percent of school leaders said supportive administrators are one of the biggest factors in getting teachers to stay. 

Districts and leadership can pick any number of ways to provide support for their teachers. For instance, subject specialists could provide teach-ins and professional learning. District subject specialists could help with co-teaching, grading assignments together or observing teachers as they lead a lesson. Digital integration specialists, assistive tech specialists and Universal Design for Learning facilitators can work with teachers to implement sustainable edtech structures and accessibility considerations. 

While most school departments set year-end goals, the process can be improved. Teachers and administrators should collaborate when defining the goals for the following year. Everyone involved should be aware of and understand the role they play in achieving the goals. Additionally, teachers should feel comfortable voicing what resources or additional skills will be needed to meet the goals. 

Another solution is to take a new approach to professional development. This can mean replacing bland teacher training days with lively conferences featuring motivational guest speakers who would re-energize teachers.

Regaining your “why” has positive reverberations

As we come out of the pandemic, it is a critical time for our education system. Providing teachers with support and encouraging them to identify their “why” will help keep our classrooms filled with educators who have a passion for helping children learn and grow. In doing so, we are providing our youth with the opportunity to achieve success in learning and beyond. 

Joni Degner is a leader in the implementation of UDL for schools, districts and institutions of opportunity. She is a dedicated speaking partner for CAST and the UDL-IRN, and is a Michigan/Indiana territory director and UDL specialist for Texthelp.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


Subscribe to SmartBrief’s FREE email ASCD newsletter to see the latest hot topics in education. It’s among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.