Nourish your “why” 

Learning and growing as professionals 

By Leana Malinowsky 

Teachers are asked countless questions throughout their career. These questions come from many different people—students, families, administrators, and still others who are not involved in the field at all. Perhaps the most popular question asked is “Why did you become a teacher?”  

Still more predictable is the response that educators give: “I became a teacher because I want to make a difference in the lives of my students.” Other varieties of responses are—but not limited to—“I love to work with children,” “I want to help make society better for all and our future,” “I want students to feel safe and loved,” “I want to give students opportunities to learn and grow,” and the list continues.  

It’s natural that teachers say this, after all that’s why someone chooses to be a teacher—for the students! 

Educators should not feel guilty or selfish if they also love teaching because they love learning, growing and developing themselves as professionals. Teachers make all other professions possible, and continuing to learn, discover and pursue their professional goals, and develop their craft are ways they can better serve the students they teach. Finding professional resources to continue learning, and exploring activities that invigorate personal strengths, serve as fuel to keep teachers energized about their careers.  

There are many ways that teachers can recharge their batteries and lift themselves up professionally to reignite their spark and find purpose in teaching for themselves. 

Create content 

Teachers have a lot of ideas for how to create and develop lessons and materials to go with them. The more lessons are taught, the better teachers get at figuring out what works best for students.  

Why not share these ideas and materials with others who may benefit from them? Creating a Padlet, Wakelet or even creating materials for Teachers Pay Teachers offers educators opportunities to share their talents for creating content and receiving feedback on their work.  

Choosing what to share also provides time for reflection to see what changes can be made with these materials.  Sharing can also help you gather ideas from others on how to create different materials or what to change in a lesson.  

Seasoned teachers can also show their leadership by serving on curriculum committees for their district, writing curricula for a subject they have expertise in.  


Whether it’s a blog, an article, or even a children’s book, teachers who enjoy writing can share their passion with others through their work. This connects with the idea of creating content.  

Sharing content through a children’s book offers the opportunity to focus on a topic and explain it just like it’s shared in the classroom. Writing for other educators is empowering, and it helps guide teachers of all levels of experience to think of a topic from a different point of view.  

Join professional organizations 

Many educators already belong to one, however, active participation takes membership to a whole new level. Networking with other educators who have joined the same organization is a way to learn more about the theme of that organization and discover ways to stay engaged. It’s also an opportunity to meet like-minded professionals who share the same passions in education and build relationships with others around the world to embrace a global perspective on the field. Professional organizations that have affiliations with New Jersey educators can be found at 


Many teachers share that presenting and speaking (to adults) make them nervous. It might take some time, but presenting on a favorite topic or speaking to other educators is a great way to share experiences and knowledge with other educators.  

Start small! There are plenty of groups that serve preservice and novice educators who always look for experienced educators to speak to the next generation of teachers—both formally and informally at meetings or on a panel.  


Connecting with speaking to preservice and novice educators, mentoring is a great way to “pay it forward” as an educator and have an impact on future teachers. Although many school districts have a formal mentoring program, most teachers who are in their first three years of teaching share that they wish they had more mentoring options.  

Whether formal or informal, serving as mentor is gratifying and helps seasoned educators build connections with new teachers, and even learn what’s new. It’s a symbiotic relationship.  

Self-directed learning 

Most middle and high school educators teach a subject area they feel personally connected to, and most elementary teachers, while they have to usually teach all subjects, tend to favor one or two. Learning about a different subject or further enhancing knowledge on an area of focus from before is the perfect passion project to feel excited to teach new with strategies and methods.  

Attending conferences is another great way to feel inspired. Sometimes all it takes to reignite the spark for teaching is one weekend with other like-minded educators sharing stories and diving into learning. Seeking out professional development that is personally exciting is beneficial for teachers and therefore students!  


Teachers are humble about their work. All educators work hard every day, including days off, and go the extra mile for their students. Why not celebrate that? Although there is no guarantee that an award will be honored, it’s worth the time to try for it. Awards and recognition can lead to new connections and possibilities to share ideas and expand teachers’ networks.  

Keeping your cup full 

When educators seek opportunities for self-growth, recognition, and activities that excite them, they automatically increase their skills and stamina to be even better in the classroom. Finding activities that nourish their “why” will make a great impact.  

The professional side of the field often takes a back seat to delivering instruction to students and the daily routines of teaching. Getting lost in the same schedule can be disheartening and creates a fine line between surviving and thriving.  

Educators need to continue to fill their own “cup” and find others who support their endeavors outside the classroom, so they can continue to be the best they can be for their students, and each other. This positive cycle serves as a support system that naturally serves students through the work of the most important factor in their school careers—teachers. 

Leana Malinowsky is the 2022-23 Middlesex County Teacher of the Year. She is first grade teacher at the PVT Nicholas Minue School in Carteret. Teaching since 2008, she has over the course of her career taught at various grade levels. She can be reached at