In Search of a Title: Starting with the Why

By: Raquel Diaz, Lastinger Center Program Coordinator

Recently, my business cards ran out, and I found myself with a dilemma in trying to define my current title at the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center of Learning. In my eight years at the center, my role has shifted and expanded. I first started as a Professor in Residence responsible for supporting graduate students in Miami who were working toward a job-embedded graduate degree in UF’s Teacher Leadership for School Improvement (TLSI) program. Through grants, we were able to help more than 200 teachers obtain a graduate degree in Miami and impact their teaching practices.

Currently, I work on several projects focused on empowering professionals and encouraging them to work collaboratively in order to improve student performance. My projects have me working across Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky and California. But with each project, my responsibilities and the scope of my work varies. Some of those responsibilities include: project coordination, facilitation, and designing programs based on the partner’s needs. So how do you define your role when you do so much?

Attending the UF Lastinger International Teacher Leadership Conference helped me in my search to define my role. One of the breakout sessions, entitled the Dialogue on Purposeful Leadership, was facilitated by one of my inspirations in education, Gene Thompson Grove.

On a side note, one of the biggest compliments I have ever received was when someone told me I looked like her.

Picture of Gene Thompson Grove and Me (twins?)

Thompson Grove is known for her work in the world of facilitation and engaging adult learners. Her session focused on finding our purpose, which she explained with an analogy of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles. In the business world, the Golden Circles are used to help companies sell products, but it all starts with the why.

Once the why is identified, Thompson Grove suggests to then explain how you do it and finally, what you do. I had been so busy trying to figure out the what, that I neglected to consider why I love my job.

During the session, Thompson Grove asked us to first illustrate our why through art. Using paint, I made a rainbow, and in the middle of the rainbow I included a heart. I decided to insert a heart in the middle to focus on what lies within the center of my work, and I completed my illustration by surrounding my rainbow with people.

As I left the session with Thompson Grove’s words still wandering in my head, I came to the realization that I didn’t need to define what I do, instead I needed to uncover why I do it. So as I ordered more business cards, I realized a card cannot capture my why, it can only capture a title. Whereas you carry your why within your heart and through your daily actions.

So why do I do what I do?

I believe in the power of community. I believe that everybody has gifts and wisdom to share. My goal in my work is to uncover people’s strengths. Through highly effective communities, reform can happen. Early childhood professionals will gain self-efficacy, the culture of centers and organizations will be more collaborative, and child outcomes will improve.

So if you ever feel lost about the role you play in education, remember the why you carry around in your heart. Whether you love to help children succeed or you enjoy inspiring people, all of us have a unique answer to why we continue to do our job as educators.