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What business are you in?

5 min read


We are in education. We aren’t in the happiness business or the customer service business or the product development business. We’re in the human potential business. We are so NOT one-size-fits-all, standardized assembly-line, profit-driven bottom line, nine-to-five clock punchers. We are people-centric, in-the-moment, altruistic, roll-up-our-sleeves, touch-the-future, idealists who support children as they learn and grow into thriving, vibrant, happy successful contributors to a quickly-changing world.

No two days are alike. We are constantly learning and living new experiences. Anytime we start to get comfortable there’s a new challenge or opportunity that shakes us up and pushes our thinking. Human potential is not a commodity or a market or a destination; it’s a journey. And each of us can tell the story of the many lives we have influenced along the way, and the way those lives have influenced us. We may not always see the long-term impact of our efforts on these young lives, but that’s the understanding we have working with human potential — it’s a promise — yet to be fulfilled.

While we’re not business people, the human potential business is a business. Dedicating our lives to the education of the future leaders of our country requires resources. We see it as in investment. We don’t expect to make a killing at it — we aren’t in it for the money– but as the caretakers of the next generation, we do ask to be supported in this important work: compensation, training and materials. And it doesn’t have to be completely in cash. In-kind support and security go a long way in allowing us to get the job done. Nothing makes our work more rewarding than a thoughtful thank you, a vote of confidence, or the assurance that we can continue to count on our work to be there.

The human potential business is as old as Aristotle. The times may change, but the work goes on. We are in the middle of a significant shift — individualized information and entertainment and communication on a global scale. Everything is available all the time: access is assumed, equity is emerging, community is connections, and connections are everything — to ideas, to people, to opportunities. It’s all about personal empowerment, and no two people are alike in how they want and need to be empowered. This is a huge challenge because human potential today has endless, unforeseen paths to success. There is no one right answer — standardization is dead.

In a time of uncertainty and soul-searching, we human potential professionals need to keep our focus on who we are and what we are about. It isn’t about the politics or the contracts, the texts, the tech or other tools. Those are distractions from who we are and what we do. If you want to be a public official or a union spokesperson or a regional sales rep, maybe the human potential business isn’t your true calling. These are all fine pursuits, but their bottom lines are measured by popularity and profits. Move on. Do what you have to do. But for those of us satisfied making a difference in the lives of children, we need to focus on living our ideals — reaching every learner and connecting them to their futures. It’s not a career — it’s a vocation helping each child fully realize their promise and their potential.

So the next time someone asks you what you do, tell them you’re in the human potential business, with a pride and a confidence that transcends all the current controversy surrounding public education. That controversy is not about you and me. Remember those times in the past you’ve ended up responsible for someone else’s mess?  Why make that mistake again? We didn’t get into this to respond to polarizing political posturing or fighting over taxpayer funding. If society values our roles as caretakers of the future, it needs to find the ways to keep us in business. As soon as we put ourselves in the position where we feel the need to justify our role — our value and our worth to society– we have lost our calling. It isn’t about us. It’s about the children and society’s stake in their future, which is ultimately society’s self-interest, not ours.

Don’t let anyone hijack your identity as a human potential professional. It’s what we do; it’s who we are; it’s the most admirable, laudable, fulfilling work there is. That’s why we got into education in the first place. Everything else is part of a larger, collective communal responsibility. Don’t make it your own.

Walter McKenzie (@waltermckenzie) is the director of constituent services for ASCD and an avid blogger. His interests and specializations include 21st-century learning, advocacy and public policy, curriculum development, education management, education research, mentoring and multiple intelligences.