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The Art of Saying "No" While Still Being Successful

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My blogs this month have featured future educators who have gone above and beyond the call of duty during their student teaching. I have no doubt that these students will go on and make a lasting impression in their future school districts, nonprofits, or other avenues they pursue. However, I wanted to take this time to address a critical issue for all educators, even those who have been in the field for quite some time. In our society, it seems that the word "no," has taken on a negative connotation in the workplace. We have become a society that has been trained to say "yes" even if we don't really understand what we are saying "yes" to. 

In education, this "yes" mentality is very prevalent. New teachers are eager to showcase their abilities to their schools, while veteran teachers are always looking to enhance their students' overall experience. This "yes" mentality comes from a good place - committed professionals willing to step up and take on additional responsibilities at the drop of a hat.  However, especially with teachers and educators, we are all taking on a "more with less" scenario with budgets being slashed, and sometimes we need to know when to say "no."

For instance, I know a lot of teachers who have taken on more responsibilities in their districts, while being asked to chair more committees, organize field trips, or serve as coaches for multiple sports teams.  While they have stepped up and taken on these roles, it seems that more often than not, they find themselves overworked and losing the passion they once had for their main role - that of educator. 

When you are beyond multi-tasking while not really having the time to manage all these tasks, it can become overwhelming and start to negatively affect not only your professional life, but your personal life as well. Thus, I wanted to suggest three questions to keep in mind when being asked to take on these additional roles:

-          Do I really have time for these extra-curricular roles? If you know that right now you might not have the time due to night school or a personal matter, be up front and honest with yourself and your supervisor. We all go through periods in our lives that are more packed than others, and you certainly don't want to commit and then overextend yourself.

-          If I don't have time right now, when would be a better time for me and how can I still stay involved with the project if I am interested? There is no shame in not being able to commit right now, but offering other services related to the project - such as, if you can take on a smaller role - can still serve the greater good.

-          If I am interested in being an integral part of the project, can I possibly collaborate with other colleagues and make it more of a group project? This still shows your investment in the project and can also highlight your ability to work well with others.

Saying yes can open up new opportunities, but you have to do what feels right to you and be willing to respectfully articulate your thoughts as your supervisor will appreciate your honesty. At the end of the day, your first priority is that of educating students. 

Olivia H. Schum

Director of Student Engagement

The School of Education

St. John's University

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