Within the multi-billion dollar self-help industry, there are countless books about mindset changes and single words. The Power of No. The Power of Now. Year of Yes. I’ve got nothing against this trend; in fact, I greatly appreciate reflection and taking a dive into how and why we (I) behave the way we (I) do and what changes might be worth considering.
As an educator, I’ve come to particularly appreciate No. Not blunt, straight-up rejections of professional opportunities or requests, but rather: I appreciate the offer. No thanks. If you’re comfortable with yourself and your personal and professional strengths, then why focus limited time and energy towards potential distractions? And taking on — or rejecting — extra duties is a real issue for many teacher leaders who are asked to carry much greater workloads than their colleagues.
But I’m not advocating being a rotten team player. Far from it. Because if you do turn down an extra school duty — whether it serving as a teacher’s union representative, SBDM council member, club sponsor or a department chair — then consider flipping your own No, thanks response into demonstrating that you would prefer to contribute in other ways.
And after delivering your own message of No, thanks, don’t be afraid to hear it in return when you are the one making an ask.
Rejection is one part of your professional journey, and it’ll be more prevalent if your brain simmers with ideas and ambition. I know from plenty of experience: I’ve been told No, thanks by publications, fellowship committees, employers, and others in my educator and writer life. This doesn’t discourage me; instead, it catalyzes me to devise new pathways.
Perhaps you’d rather design a new elective course than serve as a PLC leader. You may or may not get what you want, but you’re more passionate about innovative curriculum design that serving in a more traditional leadership role.
Eight years ago, I found myself in a similar situation as mentioned above. After proposing to create a class on digital literacy and storytelling, my superiors provided radio silence in return. The absence of reply felt even more harsh than a No, thanks. But I continued to pitch the idea to those willing to listen; it led to a new position in a new school and district, grant opportunities, and a revitalization of my education career.
Here’s another hypothetical scenario: Perhaps you’ve been asked to sponsor a school club. It happens to be the bowling team, and you can’t stand bowling. The stale bowling alley smell from decades of spilled drinks and clouds of Marlboro smoke seems to seep under your skin. But you do have a passion in service learning, so after saying no thanks to the bowling team, you present the idea to sponsor and create a new club. Even if your idea is initially rejected, believe that a building leader or other organization is out there who will embrace you and your interest.
Of course, there are times when saying No, thanks is simply a method for survival or a way of protecting well-being. Hypothetical case in point: Your graduate school studies are stretching you too thin, and you can’t currently serve on the school’s budget committee — doing so could add that extra bit of stress to spill over, leading to a knotted-up neck and tension headaches. Explain to your boss that once school is over, you’d be happy to get more involved. Teacher burnout is a real issue, and No, thanks can be literally be a career saver.
Just last month, I got hammered with probably the most painful No of my professional career. Throughout the fall, I spent hours upon hours applying for a Distinguished Award in Teaching Fulbright grant to research education in New Zealand. For six months!
I ended up receiving a flat out rejection email with no feedback. After building a unique and accomplished educator resume over 13 years, it stung. Big time. But my desire to travel and learn — leading to my application in the first place — will turn this heck, no into something better. My wife and I are already scheming for some global adventures and volunteering.
For someone who has come to embrace No, thanks as a pathway to professional satisfaction, I’ve also come to learn that meaningful, fresh professional experiences remain dormant when we’re afraid of hearing “no” in return.