Best Practice

Staying in school: Reconnecting with your ‘why’

Why did you become a teacher? We must reflect on what brought us into education and what will keep us there if we are to avoid burn-out. Emily Kenneally explains
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Do you ever ask yourself: “Why did I decide to work in education?”. Taking time to reflect on our day, our practice and our reactions can help us reclaim the joy in teaching.

Regardless of your role in education – teacher, leader, school business manager, teaching assistant or lunchtime supervisor – you are who you are because you made a decision to work in a school setting.

And there will have been reasons behind this decision. In her book, Joy in Teaching (2018), Dr Tiffany Carr suggests that taking time to reflect on our day, our practice, and our reactions is a key piece in reclaiming our joy in teaching.

Dr Shiri Lavy and Shira Bocker (2017) state in their research that teachers and educators often report that their career choice stems from a sense of mission and from a desire to create a better future or society. Motivations to become teachers include making a positive difference, being a role-model, reaping the rewards of a fulfilling and challenging career, sharing their love of learning, and enjoying being and working with children.

Does this resonate for you? If so, you might want to consider this reflective exercise to help you connect – or reconnect – with that motivation.


A reflective exercise

You can use this reflective exercise to think about what your career means to you:

  • What inspired you to enter education?
  • What makes a day in school joyful?
  • Who was your favourite teacher or member of education staff as a child?
  • Think about the last time you really connected with a pupil or colleague at work – what encouraged that connection?
  • Can you remember the first time you helped a child have that “lightbulb” moment or overcome a particular challenge?
  • What makes you feel valued at work?
  • What do you enjoy most about your role?

As you ponder each question, remember you do not have to share your answers with anyone, but be open and honest with yourself. You might be surprised how powerful writing your thoughts down can feel.

Once you have finished writing your answers down, walk away from your piece of paper and take a few moments to clear your head. Then, sit back down and take a look at your answers. Ask yourself:

  • Is there anything that has surprised you?
  • Has anything shined a light on any particularly joyful themes in your current working life?
  • Is there anything you want to hold onto or make more time for?

Take a moment to read your answers aloud to yourself. Do they sound any different when you vocalise them?


Setting wellbeing non-negotiables

One of the most common reasons for falling out of love with your work is the feeling of overwhelm or burn-out.

At Education Support something we often invite education staff – especially those experiencing signs of burn-out – to think about is whether they set themselves wellbeing non-negotiables?

These are firm and immovable rules that you keep for yourself in order to prioritise your wellbeing each day or week. Some examples we have heard from teachers and education staff include:

  • I’m always home for the children’s bedtime, no matter what.
  • I prioritise leaving school when the bell goes once a week, without fail. It doesn’t matter what’s left to do.
  • I go to the gym twice a week. I just have to, or I can feel stressed more easily.
  • I have a pre-bedtime ritual. I have to stick to it, or I won’t sleep.
  • I do not check emails after 6pm. My mind is whirring well into the night if I do.
  • I batch cook every Sunday, so I know I have meals sorted throughout the week. It takes the pressure off.

They all look quite different and are very specific to each person. Is there one thing you can stick to or do each week to create some space and help yourself to feel well?

We are conscious that having non-negotiables can involve setting boundaries or saying no, which can be challenging – feel free to check-out Education Support’s resources on setting boundaries and saying no to help you (see further information).

  • Emily Kenneally is the content and media manager at Education Support, a UK charity dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the education workforce. For previous articles from Education Support, go to 


Further information & resources


  • Education Support offers help or advice on any issue facing those working in education. Contact the free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or
  • Education Support: Saying no: Advice for setting boundaries:
  • Lavy & Bocker: A path to teacher happiness? A sense of meaning affects teacher–student relationships, which affect job satisfaction, Journal of Happiness Studies (19), 2018.