Stop complaining and start doing! Three reasons why you need passion, purpose and perseverance to work in education...

I was extremely fortunate to grow up with parents who told me I could do anything; they also taught me the value of hard work, something I have worked hard to try to pass onto my kids. I got my first real job at 15 years of age as a waitress for $1.50 an hour (minimum wage in the US at the time and fully dependant on tips!), by the time I was 16, I was managing the same restaurant three nights a week and since then I have gravitated towards management roles in a range of organisations…

I found my life’s’ calling just over ten years ago, as a single mother with a small baby, living back home with my parents and at a true low point in my life, no money, no sleep and not a lot of prospects. I took a job at an RTO as an administrator, determined to make the most of any opportunity, if not for me but for my newborn son, I got my Cert IV, took up part time training. I worked with students who were like myself, had come out of difficult relationships, were single mums with not a lot of confidence and helped train them in childcare and find them employment at the centres they did their placement. After working at the RTO for about four months, I had my first group of students graduate, they had a qualification and a job, but more than that, they had confidence that they could make things work for themselves and their kids, they knew they had value, and as a result, we shared a moment that would change my life and we all cried. I knew from that day that I would work in education and specifically with VET for the rest of my life.

Fast forward ten years and I still love VET, every day I wake up wanting to make a difference in our industry and most days, I like to think that I do in some small way. What is it that makes someone successful in VET and education? Is it because they love what they do, that they have a true passion for education? Is it that we have a purpose which is larger than ourselves? Passion and purpose are important; but in VET for the most part, that is easy.

Starting with why…

Ask anyone who has been successful, long term, in VET or education why they do what they do and you will get a derivation of the same answer… to make a difference; to create those aha moments for learners; to help others grow and be better today than they were yesterday. We share a uniting purpose in education that is larger than ourselves, which is beautiful and truly fulfilling.

There is ample evidence today which indicates that to be happy in life, you need to have a purpose which is greater than yourself. Tony Robbins says the secret to living is giving, Tolstoy stated that the sole meaning of life was to serve humanity, and famous psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl once wrote, “He who has a why can bear any how.” Often, we forget this higher purpose in education; we forget to communicate it; to reflect on it; to use it as a commonality that links us together with a united purpose, but knowing your purpose is only the first step.

In our personal careers, it’s important to regularly reflect on your purpose, use it as your compass to ensure you stay on the correct path. Ask yourself, am I being authentic to my purpose?

As leaders, authenticity in purpose is even more important, staff will get behind a leader who can unite, share and embody that greater purpose that is education. It can be a rally call for the troops, but buyer beware, it’s not hard to spot a phony and many education providers have lost their way because it quickly became evident that the senior leadership could talk the talk, but wouldn’t walk the walk. You know how you never hear of an apple exec using a blackberry? Yet why do we accept education providers that don’t want to invest in the education of their own staff? Irony and inauthenticity abound… Don’t let it happen to you…

Living your passion…

Having a purpose is fantastic, however, education is not everyone’s’ calling, if you don’t love it, don’t do it. We all remember that teacher or trainer who did not love teaching, we knew it because they wore misery on their face every moment of the day and spent much of the class coming up with creative ways to avoid their students at all costs. Thankfully, most of us have the memory of the teacher who loved teaching, who somehow made algebra enjoyable, biology brilliant or history hilarious. They made us question, comment, participate and push ourselves… their passion was infectious. Having this intersection of passion and purpose creates the building blocks for those aha moments and the ability to open peoples’ minds to a possibility of something different, to help move an individual from a fixed mindset to growth mindset. This is crucial for success because in todays’ world where we are increasingly divided by our differences, success calls for individuals who can inspire us to be ok with thinking differently and being open to change.

In our personal careers it’s important to understand that your passion will develop and grow, just like you will. My path has covered trainer, admin, manager, compliance, sales, entrepreneur and speaker and in each role, I’ve found a different way to communicate and exercise my passion for VET, your path may lead you through a range of doors also. Working in education, we must remain open as the lifelong learner, sometimes the lessons and experiences will be enjoyable, other times they may be less so, but the point is the journey, not the destination.

In our schools, the journey is similar, we work in a rapidly changing environment, there will be highs and lows, challenges to overcome and constant evolution, sometimes for the better and sometimes a little bitter. Understanding our staffs’ purposes, their whys, their passions, means that we provide balance for them, support their development and ideally, tailor staff personal development to meet the growing needs of the school and the students that inhabit it. Nothing will kill school spirit like educators who have lost their passion, either way, it is infectious. So, infect your staff with passion and the students will follow…

Perseverance…

Passion and purpose provide a solid foundation, but it’s not enough, life is hard and success is even harder, it requires hard work, failure, sacrifice and not giving up. We need to be wary that we are developing a culture of unnecessary praise, where pockets of students and staff cannot get through the day without an award. We need to develop perseverance, tenacity, grit.  Angela Duckworth explores this concept in her book and ted talk Grit; the power of passion and perseverance, identifying that grit is one of the defining factors in identifying those that will achieve success. More importantly, there is a growing body of work that we can develop these sorts of traits through the development of a growth mindset. Tony Robbins states it brilliantly, our minds are developed to help us survive, but can help us thrive, if we work at it.

As RTO managers and owners, we need to personally build our tolerance for change, to embrace it and act as role models. Marc Ratcliffe put it beautifully (as he always does) the other day, we need to realise that the expectations will change, it’s not that what we do one day becomes wrong, but our sector and our regulator develops, and we must develop along with them.

We need to appreciate that we are an industry and our industry, like all others, evolves, improves, adapts. As such, we need to develop cultures that celebrate development, innovation and progress, rather than condemning change and wistfully wishing for the ‘good ole days’. We can choose to believe that we are merely a product of our environment and that our circumstances good and bad is a result of what happens around us and to us, this is a fixed mindset. We can also believe in the power of yet, we can believe that our efforts and our attitudes determine our abilities. We can choose to keep pushing until we achieve our goals and celebrate the failures as lessons learnt. After all, this is what VET is all about right?

What if we treated VET and Educations failures as lessons, more importantly, what if we took its failures and successes in context? The fact is that millions more of people have access to education both primary, secondary and post-secondary that didn’t have access to it as little as twenty years ago. Access to education in countries has led to stronger human rights legislation, joint initiatives across countries and continents, new innovations in medicine which are for the first-time eradicating diseases that we thought we may never conquer. Fifty years ago, South Korea and Finland had some of the worst education systems in the world. Finland was at risk of becoming the economic stepchild of Europe. South Korea was ravaged by civil war. Now, they are hailed as world leaders in education and both with very different approaches. What this proves, is that we are capable of change, on an individual, organisational and national level. Let’s celebrate the industry we work in, steeped in the power of yet, and continue to develop, learn and move forward. 

As Paul would say... just my humble opinion...




Lauren Hollows
Lauren Hollows

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