Episode 8: No Room for Ego

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Have you ever read something that seemed to be written specifically for you at that very moment in your life in which you read it? Like as you’re reading the work you look around the room to see if the author is watching you read, because it’s eery how much you needed to read what was on the page? I am a big fan of Ryan Holiday – and his book Stillness is the Key seems to have been written specifically for me at the time I read it.

In chapter 9, “Find Confidence, Avoid Ego,” Holiday discusses the importance of humility in our lives. To achieve success, he reminds us that we must strike the delicate balance between humility and confidence in our lives. Spend any amount of time working in a school and you know that this advice is spot on! 

“There is simply no room for ego in our profession.”

One lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that there is simply no room for ego in our profession. When I first started teaching I was convinced that I was a great teacher–I was relatively well-liked by students, staff and families alike and I was using the hottest, new (at that time) teaching techniques by following the venerable Grant Wiggins & Jay McTigh and using backwards design principles in school. It was clear to me–I was on top of my game as a teacher.

If I’m being honest with myself, I was doing okay but I certainly had room to grow. However, I didn’t allow myself to grow because I grew to be cocky and somewhat arrogant as a teacher. For a whole host of reasons, not the least of which was a fear of really questioning myself, I built walls in my head when it came to truly being critical of myself and my teaching practices. When someone questioned my methods, whether it was a student or an adult, I would automatically dig in and become defensive. You see, in my mind I was a great teacher–so how could anything I was doing be questioned? Needless to say, I encountered some rocky times in my life (both professionally and personally) because of this arrogance and took a great deal of maturing, introspection and work to overcome it.

Maybe you’re not at all like me, in which case I’m jealous, but I have a feeling that many of you experience some of the same peaks and valleys of confidence mixed with doubt–and that’s okay. Here’s the trick, or so I’m told by people much smarter than me–the key is to not buy into either of those feelings too much at any given time. My cockiness and ego often came from insecurities (it was my way of dealing with the “Imposter Syndrome”) but that doesn’t matter–what matters is that it prevented me from becoming the best teacher I could be for myself and my students.

So how can we avoid ego but also remain confident? There’s the rub isn’t it? It’s almost as if we are continually searching for a balance between confidence & humility. As Holiday reminds us, “confident people know what matters (Holiday, 72).” So, trust yourself, do the things that matter the most in your classrooms because that’s the true cause of authentic confidence. Our confidence comes from our lived experiences, draw from what has worked and what you have learned as a teacher and be confident without crossing the line into arrogance–because take it from me, that’s not good for anyone involved.

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