What’s Your Word?

I’ve resisted the #OneWord movement. Or at least the New Year’s version of it. It’s not because I believe that boiling all of my growth down to one word is fruitless. In fact, I’ve believed in it so much that I’ve been doing it for years without even knowing it.

Having been in education for 21 years now, I know all too well how overwhelming professional growth can be. Any educator worth their weight in salt will, many times during their career, fight feelings of inadequacy. Effective leaders are reflective and continually learn with voracity and passion. This cycle of continuous improvement in education has the urgency brought on by being in one of the few professions in the world which directly affects lives on a daily basis. Put all of this together, and it easy to get lost in a sea of new ideas, professional growth plans, and the flavor-of-the-month approach.

To help focus not only my professional growth but also the growth of the teachers on my team, I started a process where, at the beginning of each school year, we reflect together through our strengths, growth areas and next steps in terms of our shared why. (17.18 Growth Word Form) We each look individually at commonalities we see in our next steps and determine a word that we can put our energy around. A word that will focus our efforts when we get lost in that sea of improvement. We call this our “Growth Word.” It is a reflective activity that is both personal and uniting as a team. On a Google form, each teacher submits their growth word, and then we print out, frame, and place our word in a visible and prominent area (classroom, office, etc.) We agree that we will look at this word as a reminder. We agree that we will support one another in our growth in this area.


Here is what I’ve noticed since we’ve been doing a #GrowthWord. I’ve noticed that I learn about our team members, what they value, and how I can support them. We discuss their growth word in individual growth meetings that we have three times a year. I immediately notice their growth word displayed in their room or office when I’m walking around. And my personal growth word has opened a door for me to be vulnerable and transparent with my team. I like them knowing what I’m working on and what I’m prioritizing.

For me as a principal, what has been most important to my professional growth is that, for the last two years (my first as principal and in my school), I’ve used direct feedback from them to come up with my growth word. The first year, after meeting individually with every staff member, I summarized their feedback on what they needed from a leader and used what came up most frequently to choose “Communication” as my word. I spent the year improving my communication skills, creating face-to-face and digital systems for communication between all members of our school team, and increasing transparency to foster trust and collaboration. This year, after reviewing our TELL survey data, I decided on “Feedback.” I continue to focus on communication, but knowing my staff values feedback (and feedback is two-way!), this helps me prioritize my efforts while also holding me accountable.

It was a couple of months into the 16.17 school year and, after sharing how we use #GrowthWord, my supervisor asked me if I’d heard of Jon Gordon’s #OneWord movement. She shared this video with me and the next morning, in our morning huddle, I was excited to share with our team.

For educators, every year we are blessed with two fresh starts. Both New Year’s and the start of school are natural times for us to reflect and commit to growth. Two times when we can come together, recognize our individual strengths and eagerness to improve. Two times when we can be vulnerable with each other and agree to support and challenge ourselves. You see, our #GrowthWord IS our #OneWord. What’s yours?

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