This may seem like a surprising time to think about giving back to our profession. These are challenging times. We feel challenged just to do the work and meet the responsibilities we already have. Yet, there are many important reasons to make the choice to give back, especially now.
Of course, education as a profession urgently needs advocates who understand its challenges, pressures, and problems and can speak to today’s reality, propose solutions, and share a positive vision. We need voices to advocate for young people to choose a career in education and be empowered to help make needed changes. We need voices of encouragement and support for each other. We can be that voice.
Giving back to the profession also means passing on what we’ve learned to aspiring and new-to-the profession educators. We can encourage others and offer perspective and advice to help them hone their practice and build their repertoire of skills and strategies. Our willingness to share our experiences can also provide insights and prevent others from making the mistakes and missteps from which we’ve had to learn.
Equally important, giving back offers significant benefits for us. Giving back reminds us why we chose this profession and reignites our passion and enthusiasm. Giving back increases our sense of purpose and generates feelings of meaning and significance. Meanwhile, we gain perspective as we reflect and share our experiences. Giving back reinforces the knowledge, skills, and wisdom we possess. Mentoring and coaching consolidates and brings to consciousness what we know, including what we may have thought we’d forgotten.
So, what does it mean to give back, and what are some ways we make a difference? Here are eight options to consider and places to start:
• Volunteer to work with student teachers and teacher interns. Young people who are considering and preparing to enter the profession need professional support and guidance. They also need good models and coaches to build their knowledge and skills.
• Mentor/coach new teachers and colleagues. As experienced educators, we have much to share that can ease the entry of new colleagues. We can be the resource they need and a guide on which they can depend.
• Teach a professional development or graduate level class or seminar. Even experienced educators need continuing education. Often the best information and ideas come from experienced colleagues.
• Volunteer for professional committees and work groups beyond our department or school. Engaging with other professionals offers opportunities to share our experience, contribute our creativity, and build our knowledge while contributing in a larger context than the classroom.
• Join a professional network. As we expand our network, we also can uncover opportunities to have an influence with and to learn from a wider group of educators. We also can gain access to increasing opportunities to advocate and influence the status and future of education
• Write an article/present at a conference/do a webinar or podcast. We might share a technique we’ve developed, a routine that works well, or an approach that’s particularly effective. Or we might address important issues or advocate for changes that will make a difference.
• Write a note about the contributions and difference making of a colleague. Noticing and sharing good things we see and recognizing excellence is a great way to give back. The note may be to the colleague’s supervisor, a newsletter, or just an informal note to the colleague.
• Offer to cover a class or assignment. Covering for a colleague may seem small, but supporting each other is a great way to give back. It can make a far greater difference than we might think.
Remember: Giving back is as much an attitude as it is a set of actions. Why we choose to do something can matter as much as what we do. An open heart, generous spirit, and readiness to help may be all that we can give right now. If so, it will be enough.