top of page

Finding your "Why" Featuring Dene Gainey

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

Hello friends, welcome to another episode of the edumagic podcast. I have a teacher, author, singer, and fantastic educator, Dene Gainey, here with me today. He will share 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, and right out of college, I got a chance to start teaching at the school I did my senior internship.

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

  • I had the opportunity to also, work with students that were in the magnet program inside 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, has made it possible for several individuals to sort crowdsourcing as edumatch snapshot and education for 2016, 2017, & 2018. I was involved in all three of those several chapters. Ever-changing nature needs to celebrate diversity and build a community.

  • I wanted to dive in and get my thoughts on paper and 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.

  • When I think about that book, it's 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 the time to consider everything and not just roaming 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?
  • I like to paint a picture with an analogy and use these kinds of analogies. If I needed to go grocery shopping, I would not go to the store without an idea of what I needed to buy. Now, that doesn't mean I don't go and buy other things. I must have a purpose for going to the store.

  • Otherwise, it might be a wasted trip that might be, you know, gas that I'm spending or wasting for no reason. The why is essential because the why drives the who, what, when, and where it informs all of those. I like to say other "wh" questions because they form 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 to, even when the days get hard. When the times get challenging, even on the perfect days, you know, it's an excellent way to go back to that and reflect on, okay, this, this, went well. I liked how this went, but this thing over here didn't because of my why, right?

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

  • It almost acts as a motivator; you cycle back to that. Why? And it keeps you going, even on 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 the 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 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 it's acceptable to alter yours because we are indeed on a journey as individuals, as educators.

  • What we do is not about one day. What we do is not about an hour of the moment of our lives. It's our decision. To walk this road, we're going to encounter 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 don't know why I did this, but really, having that, having that why right.

  • Is it going to be that moment where you can say, yes, I do? You know, even on those most difficult days, you can return to that. Why and say, That's why I started this. That's why I decided to do this.

  • What can I take away from it? That might help me to again, perfect. My why? But also give me the strength, courage, and 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 about or intense motivates you, something that excites you above and beyond.

  • Anything else, something that makes you feel fulfilled, that sort of rocks your world in a good way. I believe 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 is impacted by that rock.

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

  • That's something I have adopted as something that's a part of me. I 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 you why, how do we start with finding ours? We must identify that thing that we feel is our purpose. We must identify that thing that motivates us to get up every day and gives us that energy boost to get started. 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. Completion or that sense of actualization becomes a little bit easier.

  • I think that's going to be your first step from that impact, from that understanding of 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 identification that led me to climb. 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 instrumental in the fulfillment I desired as a part of my why. C stands for cultivating. The L stands for lead. Then, I stand for inspire. The M is motivated. The B is built, and the E is empowered.

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 cultivating because I like to cultivate. Cultivate is the first letter of the 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 or getting that soil ready for the seed, it likely may not produce what you desire it to 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 your students' minds. You are cultivating the hearts of your students. You are getting them ready for the learning that's about to happen. Learning is like a seed, and you are hoping that that will actualize. It becomes this beautiful flower or, this ripening fruit at some point down the line.

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

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.

I talk about climbe in chapter two of a journey to the Y and you. It's almost like it follows me everywhere I go now. Every opportunity I have to talk about it comes up because of it. It, indeed, 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?

First of all, to answer that question, I think it might be both. It might be the same in some regards, but it also is different because of the way it's almost; it's like the foundation that the philosophy sits on. So, why would I be at the bottom if I were building something? The philosophy is based on the why. When I think about my philosophy, it is because of the reason why the philosophy was even created. So philosophy 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, and I also believe in the power of conversation. And so. For example, the power of reflection is taking the time to think about something. 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 or working with students or not, I'm always thinking about it. Why equals purpose, why equals my drive, why equals this is why I do it. I'm always considering that because I'm always trying to think about what's next.

Living it out means walking. It means taking steps, thinking about it, using opportunities to continue to hone in on it, and learning about it. Perfect, write about it, read about it. Use that way to think about what your plans are for teaching, like your lesson plans, and why it should 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?

Be open-minded and walk into that room with an open mind. When I say an open mind, don't, don't assume that you have to do things a certain way because maybe that's how you saw it done. I think we have to be mindful of who the student is 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 every classroom, whether a student or kid, adult, teenager, or whoever every classroom is, is supposed to be student-centered because it has students. If there are students in that classroom, learn that every classroom should be students. However, a student-driven classroom is more of an opportunity because you allow it to be a student-driven classroom. You're allowing the students to drive the teaching and the learning process, which means you're paying attention. You've allowed 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's why you've allowed them to influence your teaching philosophy and maybe develop it along the way. Your philosophy might also change along the way as you're, you know, 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 is thinking about current events, thinking about opportunities, and even the need to be able to have conversations around diversity. If you ask somebody their definition of diversity, you'll probably get many different definitions, right? So having that conversation, I think, opens the door to other learning processes.

Inside 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 first time, and even though he's very athletic, he feels like he has nothing else to offer. Has he doesn't think he had anything of value that anybody else could be able to? He wouldn't be able to learn from So he feels a lot of pressure from his friends 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 can't figure out what to do, you know. Does he have any value? He has very supportive parents, including his mom. He has a friend that tries to inspire him as well. But at the same time, he feels a little. He doesn't feel precise that he has something that. It 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 that he does go through a change.

Connect with Dene Gainey
As a teacher, I don't want to ever stop learning.
Want to dig into your WHY and teaching philosophy? Take the 5 day challenge!

23 views0 comments


bottom of page