When we examine the course of our lives, we tend to remember certain events that, in hindsight, were life altering moments. For me, I remember choosing which college I would attend, getting married, the birth of my daughter while exiled during hurricane Katrina, the birth of my son while I was out of state on business (he decided to come earlier than our scheduled delivery), and successfully defending my doctoral dissertation.
Professionally, we also experience powerful moments that were similarly powerful. These are what I call profession altering moments. I purposely do not call them career altering moments, because those tend to involve changing careers. With profession altering moments, we go through a transformation of what it truly means to be a professional in our chosen field.
One such moment occurred when I was coaching baseball and had a serious disciplinary infraction take place during an away game which resulted in the cutting of a number of players from the team and ending our season early due to lack of players. Essentially we had to forfeit the remainder of our games. This moment led me to a greater interest in school administration and my first administrative post as an Upper School Dean of Students.
Another profession altering moment was during and after Hurricane Katrina during which, while waiting for my daughter to be born, I maintained contacts and communication with teachers and families displaced all over the country. I, too, was displaced having evacuated to Memphis to live with friends (thanks, guys!). After returning to New Orleans, our school was in decent shape and could open for students. Pre-storm our school served about 800 students in grades PK - 8. After the storm, we ballooned to near 1300 students from all over the area whose families were desperate to find a place to send their children each day. As assistant principal, I was very involved in coordinating the effort to care for those students; which we were able to do without many problems.
The point here is not to retell my story. Rather, it is to highlight the fact that we are presented with opportunities to alter our perception of our professional lives, but those opportunities are often hidden within an unexpected and seemingly overwhelming challenge. As educators, challenges are never in short supply. However, we tend to look upon them as distractions from what we want to accomplish or roadblocks to what we believe we should do. The implication here is not to ignore these challenges, but rather recognize them for their potential for growth as well as their potential for set-back.
Here is a two-part plan for turning challenges into growth opportunities (and potentially profession altering moments).
Part 1: State the challenge as a "but" statement; then change the "but" to "and." For example: "I want to provide extra help outside of class to students, BUT I coach after school and cannot arrive any earlier each day." This statement changes to, "I want to provide extra help outside of class, AND I coach after school and cannot arrive earlier each day."
Part 2: Take the new statement, and "therefore" to the end and finish the statement. For example: "I want to provide extra help outside of class, AND I coach after school and cannot arrive earlier each day. THEREFORE, I can . . ."
Forcing yourself to come up with WHAT you CAN do in the face of your challenge not only provides a map to success, but also a path to a profession altering moment. Hopefully, your challenge will not include a hurricane hitting your school.