What's your word? | Mindsteps Inc.

What’s your word?

Can I be honest about something? I hate most core values exercises. It’s not that they are inherently bad. It’s that they usually render the core values we wish we had or the core values we think we should have. They rarely help us see the core values we actually have.

A simpler and ultimately more effective way to get at our core values is to try to distill them down to one word.

That’s right. ONE word.

For instance, as a teacher, my word was “Options.” Everything I did was to give my students more options. The rigorous college-level work I crafted for even my most struggling students? It was so that college would become an option for them. The trips to the opera and the Kennedy Center? Even if they never became opera buffs or patrons of the arts, I wanted those venues to become options for them. The code-switching? I wanted them to have the option of navigating different contexts outside their communities while keeping them grounded in their own community. I nurtured their currencies while trying to help them acquire different currencies because I wanted them to have options.

When I became an administrator, I still wanted options for my students, but I adopted a new word for my work with teachers – Mastery. I wanted to give our students master teachers, so I nourished each teacher’s journey towards mastery. In fact, most of my books have been about how to become or lead master teachers. When it comes to school leaders, my word is mastery.

As an writer and speaker and professional developer, lately I’ve been mulling over a new word. I still want students to have as many options as they can. I still feel the best way to do that is to give them master teachers. But, as I work with teachers on the journey to mastery and with administrators charged with leading those teachers, I am starting to see the need for something more, something that goes beyond leadership or even transformation. I need a new word.

I’ll tell you what my new word is in my next post, but for now, I want to hear what YOUR word is? Why do you do what you do? What difference are you trying to make and how are you trying to make that difference? What is your why? If you had to distill your purpose down to one word, what would that word be?

Tell me YOUR word in the comments below.

  • Amanda Siewert says:

    Engage. Of course with their school work, but more importantly with each other and with their world. Our connection with each other is so important to a positive trajectory as we move forward in our lives. Connection requires us to engage with each other in authentic ways. Once we understand each other better, we can engage with the world to make positive impacts for each other.

  • Beatrice Johnson says:

    International. Our students come from different backgrounds. Mostly, from international families. These families know that education is very important. They came from a background that pushed education. They are very surprise that our education is not competitive international.

    One thing I always hear is that we don’t know about other countries, even our own.

  • Shawanna James Coles says:


  • Kim Hodge says:

    My word Opportunity. My goal is to make sure that every child has the opportunity to an education regardles of where they have been.

  • When I look back at my years in the classroom and think about what made me the most passionate, it was definitely when students were able to see the progress that they made academically and socially, so my word as a teacher was self-efficacy. I constantly asked students to reflect on their attitudes and aptitudes, what they believed about their abilities, and how their beliefs shifted as a result of the rigorous thinking that they demanded of one another as I modeled such for myself and the class as a whole.

    As an administrator, it took me a while to shift from the lead position, simply telling other teachers what worked for me, and expecting them to just repeat my methods. I seriously had to check myself (and close colleagues also checked me!) and reflect: That was not what worked for my students, so why would that work for teachers? So curiosity became my new word. I sought first to understand not just the teachers’ practice, but who they were as people, as spouses, friends, parents, children, in order to meet them where they were and understand what they really wanted out of their work.

    This is a constant struggle, but a beautiful one. Thanks for this prompt!

    • Robyn Jackson says:

      I love this. So many administrators lead in ways that they would never use with students. I love that you “checked yourself!” We all need to check ourselves when it comes to leading teachers.

  • Martin peterson says:

    From Henry David Thoreau: ” Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify

  • frank says:


  • Robyn Derington says:

    Innovation. I chose this word because as educators, we are life-long learners. In order to meet the needs of the teachers, staff, students and parents in our district, we must be willing to listen and learn.

  • Diane says:

    Thank you for this exercise. I get “wordy” when I write a personal mission, and you are absolutely right; I end up writing what I think I SHOULD strive for, not what I really live. Your word should be what you truly live. I am a new principal (just finished year one!) and while lots of words came flooding to me, I landed on connection as my one word.
    I work hard every day to make personal connections with my staff and students and their parents. I hope to make connections for my teachers so that they see that the “mandates” we have are really connected to student learning and are ultimately good for kids. I believe we are all connected some how. I can be much more compassionate when I remember this truth.

  • Melissa says:

    Exemplify-to provide my students examples and models of success. You see I grew up in surrounding community of the school I have worked in. My son attended the school I worked in. He is now on a full ride at a University playing football. It drives my passion of teaching. I want my students to see that success and reach for their goals despite any obstacles.

  • Petra Schmidt says:


    My idea is that nothing is ever finished. Every person, piece of work, relationship or institution can be improved.
    It is a life-long process and I want to teach students not to be satisfied with their first attempt. Planning and revision are important elements. Also the idea of sharing ideas and working together.

  • Joy Stribling says:


  • Kathryn says:


  • Kathryn says:

    My work is to help teachers and school leaders reflect on their practice, and the practice of those they supervise, in order to improve our students’ experience and achievement. The struggle for many is, simply, acknowledging the need for growth. The struggle for others is having the courage to speak up when they see growth is needed. Time is short – and kids come first.

  • Brian Lile says:

    At Muhlenberg South Middle School in Greenville, Kentucky our staff did a book study last summer. The book study was on the book “One Word” by Jon Gordon. Every staff member (teachers, aides, custodians, cafeteria staff and administration) read the book and turned in their “One Word” on the first day for staff. We had a banner made that listed all of our one words and posted it in the front lobby as a reminder to us and for visitors to see as well. Each staff member also posted their one word outside of their classroom door.

    My one word last year was “Motivate.” I’m still working on this upcoming school year’s word, but believe I have narrowed it down to either “Challenge” or “Inspire.”

    Our staff will turn in a new one word on opening day this year as well.

    One words for our staff last year included…Encouragement, Pride, Challenge, Inspire, Dedicated, Connect, Direction, Believe, Purpose, Patience, Intentional, Discipline, Simplify, Cleanse, Commit, Serenity, Influence, Savor, Serve, Thoughtfulness, Thankful, Value, Dependable, Joy, Motivate, Gratitude, Smile, Truthful, Mentality, Overcome, Grow, Devotion, Faith, Enthusiastic, Integrity, Health, Determined, and Focus.

    If you haven’t read “Life Word” by Jon Gordon I highly recommend it. This book allows you to focus on your Life Word, the word that will allow you to discover your one word to leave a legacy.

  • Janice says:


  • rick charvet says:


  • Dana Scheidt says:

    Empowered – to have “a seat at the table” or a voice in the world

  • Kristin Shelton says:

    Next Step

    I realize those are two words, but I cannot come up with anything else to convey that meaning.

    For my kindergarteners, I challenge them each to take their next step. We celebrate the skills they have and work on the next step in each area for growth. I find this more effective than trying to tell them the end goal without helping them move along the way.

    For myself, I challenge myself to take one next step and become comfortable there before taking another next step. This first comes to mind with technology. I take one step and learn how to enter data into a new system. Once I feel comfortable with that, I explore the system to run a report. I do this with instruction too. Instead of setting up a complete reading workshop day one, I set up a component of it and then we practice it for awhile. Once we have a handle on that, I add the next step–another component. Even with housecleaning, I take one step to start one task. Once that task is done, I take my next step and finish one more task. (As opposed to flitting around the house starting lots of tasks, but not seeing any to completion.) And finally, for using my phone. I am challenging myself to do the same thing. I tend to look at it to check the weather and 30 minutes, 14 likes and 3 angry faces later, I put it down.

    So, next step, is my word(s).
    Let me just add that I love these newsletters. I have responded to some, but I read every one. Thanks for taking the time to write and send them.

  • Sf says:

    Freedom from poverty through growth mindset, grit, innovation, and leadership is what my word and professional mission is all about.

  • Kathryn says:

    Growth. All teachers and leaders need to be willing and able to adapt, change, and grow to be the best they can for kids. This is my work every day.

  • Brian says:

    My word is tools. As a librarian, I give students tools for their toolbox. When they encounter an unfamiliar situation, they just need to look in their toolbox, pull out an appropriate tool, and resolve their problem.

  • Andrea Schueler says:

    Growth. As an instructional coach working with over one hundred secondary teachers who directly serve 2000+ students, I want the resources I share, the questions I ask, the reflection I prompt to result in growth for the educators I work with directly as well for all the students in our building. We are always learning.

  • Phyllis says:

    I want to be the spark that ignites excitement about (or at least appreciation for) the role of literacy in our lives as teachers and the lives of our students.

  • Andrea says:

    Access – Education gives students access to a better life, a better way of thinking. It gives them access out of negative situations. That’s what education did for me!!

  • Tammy McClain says:

    INTENTIONAL: To be intentional means “to do on purpose; deliberate; conscious…” When told to develop one word that would articulate my ‘why’ I do what I do, ‘what’ my intended outcome is and ‘how’ I plan to make a difference, intentional is my single word that comes to mind in my desire to advocate for our traditionally under-served students to reach high academic levels. Intentional approaches are required to move to Every Child Succeed especially in our academically high performing schools, where the score board consistently reads “GOOD/EXCELLENT”. Though Excellent, we cannot mire in the seat of complacency, but rather must be INTENTIONAL in our endeavor to see every child succeed at the highest of levels.

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