I like to say that I grew up in humble beginnings. I was raised in a two parent home until my parents divorced when I was 12 years old. It was at that time of my life when I began to experience situational poverty. I didn't know that the way we were living was considered to be at the poverty level. The government sets those standards and families who are living in those conditions usually don't know that a "standard" has been set to describe what they know to be normal. Whatever the standard, I knew that I wanted a new normal, and that there was a better way to live. At the time when I most needed stability, encouragement, direction and guidance, I found it at school in the teachers and coaches who genuinely cared about me and my well-being. Those individuals didn’t seek me out because they knew my situation. No one at school, even my friends, knew my situation. The beauty in the story is that they didn’t need to know those things to invest in me. What they didn’t know was that I needed opportunities and experiences at school more than ever. Those experiences helped me to escape from my home life, and I viewed them as a means to a better way of living after I graduated from high school. Education saved my life and changed the path of my future generations.
I tell you this brief bio so that you can understand my why. Our life experiences help shape who we are today. I always knew my why, introspectively, but it has taken deep reflection to own it and to be courageous enough to tell my story to others. People want to know why I chose this profession. They want to know my passions, what motivates me, and what drives me to make the decisions that I make. As an educator, I should be able to state my why to anyone who asks "why do you do what you do?" In order to do this, I had evaluate my why in order to elevate my purpose. Educators who know their influence and the power that they have in the lives of children truly understand and are able to articulate their why to others. My why is hinged on three beliefs.
- I lead because education is the great equalizer.
- Where a child lives should not be a determining factor of the type of education a child receives. Each day in our country many students come to school with a privilege gap. It is our responsibility to recognize and minimize this gap. Most students don't get to pick where and if they go to school. Since attendance is compulsory, the experiences that students engage in at school should be worth it. My education opened doors for me. It allowed me to cross the bridge into another world that I would not have known if I had not graduated from high school and college.
- I understand my impact.
- Coming to your why means really digging deep and knowing your own story. Growing up we were told to never tell our family business. I learned how to wear a mask and act as if I didn't live in a home where we were struggling to have our basic needs met. It has taken me time and courage to appreciate my why. My why is bigger, bolder and better because of my life experiences. My why has helped me to know and accept my impact as a principal. There are other Sanee's out there who deserve a quality education and who are depending on us to ensure that what we promise to offer students is what is actually being provided. In the lives of some children, the school and the adults who work in it are the only icon of stability that some children know. Some students have obstacles and challenges to overcome that many adults can’t even begin to fathom. A person does not have to have the same background or experiences to relate or see a sense of urgency in a situation. Our influence is greater than we’ll ever know, and our impact on the lives of children can change lives.
- If not me, then who?
- I can't expect others to give and be their best for children if I am not modeling the way. If I don't advocate for all students, how can I expect that to be the pervading culture of my building? I know that access to education can be a life or death matter for some students. I recognize the sense of urgency that we must have as educators to prepare children for their future, which is not a world of standardization, but a future where they will be equipped to contribute to our society and greater causes than any individual can accomplish alone. I know that it doesn't matter where you came from but where you are going in this life that determines future paths. Being an educator is my passion. I find significance in this work that I have been called to do. I heard Angela Maiers describe passion as not doing what you like to do, but doing what you must do. I could not imagine doing anything else than having the privilege and honor to impact the lives of children each day. I must do this work, because someone did it for me.
If we don't evaluate our why by taking self-inventory of our story and what drives us to teach and lead each day, we run the risk of losing sight of our core business. More importantly, if we don’t elevate our why, we may minimize the sense of urgency of our calling. Our business is critical, and as educators, we should be committed to changing the lives of children. I challenge all of us to reflect, recharge, and renew our commitment to our students and our noble profession. Go change the life of a child! Our kids deserve our best and nothing less.