• Samantha Fecich

Finding your "Why" Featuring Dene Gainey

Hello friends, welcome to another episode of the edumagic podcast. I have teacher author, singer, amazing educator, all around Dene Gainey here with me today. He is going to be sharing about the importance of finding your why as a future teacher.

Before we get started into talking about the importance of finding our, why in education. Can you share about your teaching journey, where its led you all the different paths you've taken and where you are today?
  • I started teaching in 2004, right out of college actually got a chance to start teaching at the school that I did my senior internship in.

  • Taught at four diverse schools, in the orange County, Orlando, Florida area, and, really got a chance to see what it was like to teach kids, different learning levels, different experiences that they had.

  • I had the opportunity to also, work with students that were in magnet program inside of the elementary school as well.

  • I had some charter school experience.

  • I've been teaching for 14 years, going into your number 15, which is exciting.

  • I'm still excited and passionate about what I do.



Now you said you're going into gear 15 of teaching, but not only have you been an educator, but you've also been an author.
  • I'll start with the fact that EduMatch publishing, with Dr. Sarah Thomas, she, has made it possible for, several individuals to be able to sort of crowd source as edumatch snapshot and education for 2016, 2017, & 2018. I was involved in all three of those, several chapters. ever-changing nature needs celebrating diversity and building a community.

  • I wanted to, dive in and get my thoughts on paper and really share about, and interestingly enough, those blog posts, became at least the first, I guess I would say six of them, became the first six chapters of Journey to the Y. I'm just so grateful that journey's the why he was able to be published in 2018.

  • When I think about that book, it's really a collection of my own experiences as an individual, but as an educator as well and the importance of, the journey, the importance of, opportunities to reflect the importance of just really taking them time to consider everything and not just walking aimlessly down this teaching road, but everything matters.

Everything has a purpose and everything has a role to play in us, really understanding our why.


So why. Why do we need to find a why? Why do we need to find our, why in education? Why do we need to have that early on to help drive us and push us forward?
  • Well, I like to I'll paint sort of paint a picture with an analogy, and I like to use these kinds of analogies. If I needed to go grocery shopping, I would not go to the store without an idea of what it was that I needed to buy. Now, that doesn't mean I don't go and buy additional things. I didn't plan on buying that typically happens all the time. But I must have a plan. I must have a purpose for going to the store.

  • Otherwise it might be a wasted trip that might be just, you know, gas that I'm spending or wasting for no reason. and so the why is important because the why drives the, who, the, what the, when the, where it informs all of those. Other “wh” questions I like to say because it forms the foundation

  • The why is the direction or the journey that you will take in life informs that very foundation for it.

  • It gives you something to say circle back to, to cycle back to, even when the days get hard. When the, when the times get challenging, when, even on the very good days, you know, it's a good way to go back to that and reflect on, okay, this, this, went well. I really liked the way that this went, but this thing over here didn't, but because of my why, right?

  • Because of this purpose or this foundation that I have, I know that I can choose a different way to approach this the next time.

  • It almost acts as a motivator too, you know, you cycle back to that. Why? And it keeps you going, even in the difficult days.

Is it common for our why to change? does our wide change throughout our teaching career or throughout our teaching journey. Is that okay if it changes?
  • I believe that there is a strong possibility that your whack can be changed. And I'll say that in a sense of totally transformed. I can say that in the sense of added to. I can say that in the sense of maybe taking a part of it out or perfecting it, maybe you start out with a general example or gen Y, but as you've continued to walk forward, it becomes more intense or more, Complex based on your experiences.

  • I think that's totally acceptable to alter your why, because we are truly on a journey as individuals, as educators.

  • What we do is not about one day. What we do is not about an hour of our moment of our lives. It's about our decision, right? To walk this road and down this road, we are going to, we're going to encounter many, many things that are so good. We're going to encounter some good things. We're going to counter things that are, that are very challenging. We're going to encounter those days where it might seem like, Oh my gosh, I really don't know why I did this, but really, having that, having that why right.

  • Is going to be that moment where you can say, yes, I do. You know, even in those most difficult days, you can circle back to that. Why and say, That's why I started this. That's why, that's why I decided to do this. And if I can really think about this thing, then I'm going through and figure out, okay, why, why did this obstacle arrive?

  • What can I take away from it? That might help me to again, perfect. My why? But also give me the strength and the courage and the, the mojo to keep going.

I appreciate you sharing your passion for finding our why, but how do we even get started? But it sounds like a huge philosophical question that maybe we tackle early in our college career and would never visit again. So, what are some strategies that you have that we can get started and starting to craft our why for our educational journey.
  • It's a loaded question. I think that there are so many things involved. Something that you feel passionate or strong or, you feel motivates you, something that excites you above and beyond.

  • Anything else, something that makes you feel fulfilled that that sort of rocks your world in a good way. I believe that that your, why must be connected to that?

  • Just as a personal example, one of the words I like to associate with what I do daily is impact.

Impact, you know, I have always wanted to make an impact.
  • I mean throwing a rock into a puddle of water? When that rock hits that puddle of water, the water has been impacted by that rock. It's a visible, if there's evidence to say that that rock has been impacted of the water has been impacted by the rock.

  • There are many levels of impact. I've always wanted to be able to make that impact. I may not make a lot of money, but I will make an impact.

  • That's something that I have, adopted as something that that's a part of me. I really want, I want to make an impact. I want to walk away with a sense of fulfillment.

  • I want to feel like I've accomplished my purpose. So, when I think about identifying a way to find your why, how do we start with finding our, why we must identify that thing that we feel is our purpose. We have to identify that thing that we feel motivates us to get up every day and really gives us that energy boost, to sort of get started and get going. that is so important because if we can pinpoint that thing, then moving forward with identifying what it's going to take to arrive at that sense of. completion or that sense of actualization becomes a little bit easier.

  • I think that that's going to be your first step from that impact, from that understanding of, okay, this is what I want. I want to make an impact. I want to make a difference.

  • I want to have that creative and innovative, approach to things and be able to reach people. and so, I the identifying that led me to climbe. This climbe philosophy came from making an impact.

  • I developed the philosophy called climb, C L I M B E and each letter in that climb represents a word, that, is very instrumental in the fulfillment that I desired as a part of my why. C stands for cultivate. The L stands for lead. The, I stands for inspire. The M is motivate. The B is build and the E is empower.

I just did a little, a little caveat there, you know, empower is the last letter of climbe. However, it is not the end necessarily just an end goal. It is also something that can be happening throughout the process of clients.

I like that. Can you give us an example?

I'll start with cultivate because I like cultivate. Cultivate is the first letter of climb. I like to equate this to the ground. I've been on a lot of gardening and planting lately too. So, one of the things I know about the ground is the ground has to be prepared for the seed that you're going to plant. Without turning over that soil, without getting that soil ready for the seed, it's likely that that seed may not produce what you are desiring it to produce or what it's supposed to produce.

The ground is like the hearts and the minds and the individual, the whole individual. When you cultivate the ground, it's like you're cultivating the minds of your students. You are cultivating the hearts of your students. You are getting them ready for the learning that's about to happen. The learning is like the seed you're planting a seed in the child, and you are hoping that that's going to actualize. It becomes this beautiful flower or this, this ripening fruit at some point down the line.


Cultivation is absolutely necessary as the, as the first thing, because without the proper environment, for that seed to develop and become and blossom and become fruitful. Then it doesn't matter that you're planting a seed because the environment, if the environment is not appropriate for the seed, the seed will not grow and develop into what we want it to develop into.

Where can we find more information about climbe? Cause I feel like this is something that we need to be able to dive deeper into and explore for ourselves.

Well, I do talk about, climbe in chapter two of journey to the Y and you, it's almost like it follows me everywhere I go now. Every opportunity that I have to talk about it, it comes up because it really. It truly has become a part of me.

You mentioned the word teaching philosophy. Now, how is that the same or is it different than finding your why?

Well, first of all, I think that to answer that question, I think it might be both. It might be the same in some regards, but it also is different because the why it's almost, it's like the foundation that the philosophy sits on. So, if I were, building something the why would be on the bottom because the philosophy is based on the why. When I think about my philosophy, it is because of the reason why that the philosophy was even created and so the philosophy is something that allows me to identify specific steps I can take. So those actionable steps come from the philosophy and the philosophy comes from the foundation for why.

How can we start to show that as future teachers in our college careers, how can we start to live that out? How can we show it? How can we embrace our why?

I believe in the power of, reflection, I also believe in the power of conversation. and so. For example, the power of reflection, taking the time, the time to think about that. Why?It forces you to think about it. There's not a day that goes by that I don't consider it. Whether I'm in the classroom, whether I'm working with students or not, I'm always thinking about. Why equals purpose, why equals my drive, why equals this is why I do it. and so I'm always considering that because I'm always trying to think about, well, what's the next thing.


Living it out means walking. It means taking steps, thinking about it, using opportunities to continue to hone in on it, learn about it. Perfect, write about it, read about it. using, that why to think about what your plans are for teaching, like your lesson plans, that why should it be embedded in there, whether you see it or not, it should be embedded in everything that you do as far as living it out.


What is one piece of advice that you have for future educators listening today?

I would say be open minded, walk into that room with an open mind. When I say open mind, I mean, don't, don't assume that you have to do things a certain way because maybe that's the way that you saw it done. I think we have to be mindful of who the student are in our classroom at that present time.


I'm very much so focused on the student driven classroom. I like to make a distinction between student centered versus student driven. I believe that every classroom, whether it be student or kid, adult, teenager, whoever every classroom is, is supposed to be student centered. Because it has students in it. If, if there are students in that classroom, learning that every classroom should be students in it. However, a student driven classroom is more of an opportunity because you are allowing in a student driven classroom, you're allowing the students to really drive the teaching and the learning process that means you're paying attention. You've allowed for them to drive your teaching and learning process. You've allowed them to drive your reflective process. You've allowed them to spark or re spark that why you've allowed them to, influence your teaching philosophy and maybe developing it along the way, who knows your philosophy might also change along the way as you're, you know, sort of leaning into that student driven classroom.

Dene before you go. I know that I saw on Instagram, I think it was Instagram that you have a new project out. Would you mind sharing some details about it, maybe the why behind your project, what it is and where we can find more information about it.

I have recently published a play called Diversity: It is not just about you. It's about us. The why behind that, obviously thinking about current events, thinking about the opportunities and even the need to be able to have conversations around diversity. I think if you ask somebody what their definition of diversity is, you're probably going to get many different definitions because right. So having that conversation, I think really opens the door to additional learning processes.


Inside of this play, you're going to meet a character named Devin. Devin is a middle school student who is an athlete and plays many different types of sports. However, the school is having a variety show for the very first time and even though he's very athletic, he feels like he has nothing else to offer. Has he doesn't think he has anything of value that anybody else could be able to. Wouldn't be able to learn from So he feels a lot of pressure from his friends and, the reason why is because they're all participating. He would be the one that's not participating. If he doesn't come up with something to do, but he can't figure out, you know, what to do. Does he have any value? He has very supportive parents, his mom, he has a friend that really tries to inspire him as well. But at the same time, he feels a little, he doesn't feel exactly that he has something that. Is of value to share with anybody else. But something changes with him in the play, something switches I'm in the middle of the play, and I'm not going to spoil everything, but you will have to read it to find out, but he does go through a change.


Connect with Dene Gainey
As a teacher, I don't want to ever stop learning.
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