cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by o5com

For some reason, the word “no” is extremely tough for educators to say.  Well to be honest, it is actually very easy when it is proceeded by “I should have said…” while we are caught in a wave of work that is seemingly extremely tough to keep up with.  As social media connects us more, requests from others seem to grow as well.  I am proud to say that I have been someone who has offered help continuously to those who have asked, but as I have learned to reflect, I am seeing that I have disconnected from many of the things that I love.

You see this in educators all the time.  In Canada, extracurricular activities are voluntary and teachers are amazing at giving their own time to provide awesome after-school programming that helps to build the culture and skill-sets of our students.  I could not be more thankful for the coaches that spent a significant amount of time with me on the basketball court.  In fact, many times I believe that I learned more from my interactions and opportunities from sports then I actually did from school.  I learned how to face adversity, deal with challenges, and work effectively in a team.  I didn’t learn everything from sports, but I did learn a lot.  If it wasn’t for the generous giving of time from many of my coaches, I would not have had that extremely important learning.

Wanting to give the same opportunities to students I taught, I coached for several years and loved every minute of it.  I was always so proud of the kids I coached in basketball and football and those long road trips help to build connections that last long after students leave school.  One day however, I just felt like I needed a break from coaching for the year.  I thought about it deeply, and after long contemplation, I decided to give it another year.  As I went through that year, I realized that I didn’t love it anymore.  My heart was just not into coaching and although I wanted to provide those same opportunities for our students that I had as a kid, I felt that I was not giving them the same passion that was modeled for me when I played.

The following year, after much deliberation, I prepared myself to say “no” when it was asked if I would coach again.  I lost sleep about it.  I couldn’t eat (which is EXTREMELY rare!).  Then it came and when I was asked, I said no.  This was followed by what my friends call the “come ons”; the insistent “come on…you should do it for the kids”, “come on…you love basketball”.  The extreme guilt that followed was tough to take but I stuck with my decision.  That year, I started my masters and it was probably one of the most enjoyable experiences that I have had.  I enjoyed the opportunity to watch from afar yet take some time to pursue some of my own interests.  To this day, I still feel guilt about the decision but I know that it wasn’t fair to myself or to the kids, to do something begrudgingly and half-heartedly.

As the requests come in, I have again struggled with the word “no”.  Something that I promised myself a few years ago was that I would never do anything that I didn’t love.  This year, I stepped away from reffing basketball (my first season totally away from the game since I was 8), I have cut down on teaching classes at the gym (from 7 to 3 a week), and I have taken a step back from some aspects of social media.  I have replaced much of that with spending time with my friends, building relationships, and taking my dogs to the park more in a week then I used to in a year.  To be honest, I am enjoying every moment of it.

While many teachers have this attitude that they can’t please everyone, but they sure are going to try, they often leave out themselves.  Saying ‘no’ to certain things often means saying ‘yes’ to others.  Keeping commitments is still a huge priority to me, but above all, doing things with a smile on my face and in my heart seems to be a lot more important as of late :)




  1. Really good post George. I'm often asked by new teachers what my best piece of advice is and I respond with, "Learn how to use the word no, unless you want to kill yourself." I didn't learn how to use the word 'no' until I had my own kids. Then it became easy because they became the priority. I often find that people often find they have to follow up their 'no' response with an immediate reason as to WHY they are saying no. I suppose the part about being able to say 'no' needs to also be linked to the ability to accept a 'no', without the "come ons' 😉

  2. I was gonna read your blog, and then I was like, "no."

    HA! Kidding! Yes, I understand this all too well. I've only just started to say no in my professional life, and I know I need to be doing more of it. Especially with a change in jobs coming this summer.

    What bugs me is when you respectfully say, "No, I can't do that" and people badger you to change your mind. In my case, I just blame my family and other outside commitments, and it usually makes people pause long enough for me to escape. But people should stop assuming that single folks, or those without children, can automatically take on more just because they may not have as many family commitments. It's a form of bias in my opinion.

  3. Yes! Yes! Yes! You atre so right on the spot with this post. Educators seem to have an innate need to please others and they feel guilty for saying no. I have a good friend who is a teacher who has been on the verge of burning out for a couple of years now. I'm constantly reminding him that he should not take on so much and that he must take time for himself. He has said yes for so long that he feels incredibly guilty for trying to do something simple like eating lunch alone in his room while grading papers. He is the go to tech guy in his school so his colleagues are constantly asking him for help. He is just one of many teachers who I know that can't say no.

    I have learned over that last few years that I have to say no once in a while. I realized I was running myself ragged and I wasn't doing anything very well. That is why I decided to not organize the ISTE Newbie project this year. You know more than anyone how much that project means to me, but I could not in good faith do it this year because I knew my heart would not be in it.

  4. Love this. I'm not one who usually says no. I'm usually the last one to leave school & always one to volunteer. While being out on medical leave I see my kids much more then I did before. Longer I'm at home more I'm enjoying their company and seeing what I've missed while coaching and working 13 hour days at least once a week. So last week I called my principal and said "no" to coaching next year. It was so hard and many tears were shed but more I think about it the more opportunities I see can happen. Even something as simple as working out, I'll have time to do so now. Slowly I'm feeling better about my decision. Thanks for writing this. Much needed to be said.

  5. I am awake at 1:30 am because I am trying to make a decision about my role on the executive committee of our school's CTA. I am miserable on the committee; the more I try to get things changed, the harder the top 2 fight me. Our CTA only has about 5 members attending because of the same thing causing me misery. I want to quit. I feel obligated to stay and continue to fight the good fight. I want to say "no" before elections next week. Thanks for your post, it gives me food for thought.

  6. I came to a similar decision earlier this year about committee work. Found that it was not feeding me. It is hard to say no. We enter the profession because we are caring and passionate people. That is hard to turn off. I like being needed. However, I also, like you, need to find things that intrinsically motivate me. And, like you, they don't have to be the same things that motivated me in the past. Sounds like you have done a great deal of soul searching. Way to go.

  7. A friend of mine at school decided that "no" was one of our weaknesses, and we came up with the line: "Let me think about that, and get back with you" instead of our first instinct of always saying yes. And while some people realize it is a bit of a delay tactic, we found it actually works and gives us time to think about whether or not we want to do something.

  8. Sometimes the pressure to say yes doesn't come from outside sources. For me, as someone with some type A tendencies, I struggle with saying no to myself. For example, it is tough for me to walk away from a blog post I want to read when I know I should be asleep. I like to take on challenges because it keeps my mind engaged. I love the thrill of having so many projects spinning in my head, like the guy at the circus spinning the plates. But you're right it is also about balance. I feel most successful when I walk the line between doing as much as I possibly can without compromising my personal life. Okay, maybe my apartment gets a little neglected. However, I am also most productive then too. I know sometimes I cross the line (ever tried training for an Ironman or five – talk about a huge accomplishment but a major time sucker) and I need to work at having a better work/life balance. For me that has meant technology free hours in my home. It has meant more time outside with my friends and family. It means running, swimming, yoga, and spin classes are scheduled before I open the computer or schedule a meeting.
    Thank you for reminding me to put me at the forefront of my life. If I don't no one else will. As a side, I'm still really disappointed that I didn't get to meet you when you spoke to the Administrators in my district last month. I am however quite excited to meet your brother later this week. You sure you don't want to come along for the ride. I'm sure we can find a space for you. :-)

  9. I have struggled with this a number of times. Most recently just before Christmas last year. I have always held holiday singalongs at my elementary school. As a guitar player and natural performer it is one of my first loves. That was until two years ago when a parent overheard some of our older students singing versions of songs that were inappropriate. She went above our heads and complained that I was promoting violence and inappropriate music. I ended up having to submit lyrics and song lists and defend myself in front of Directors and such.

    This year when I said "NO" to doing this my staff immediately started pushing me to do it. The guilt was laid on thick and then the voice of admin got involved. In the end, I was told I had to do it. So much for having the ability to say no.

    As teachers and administrators, I feel we have to be able to make these types of decisions. Yes, it might mean giving up some things that have become expected, but we have to look at the health and well being of our staffs.

    Great post George! Thanks for raising such an important topic.

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  11. “Love is a bicycle with two pancakes for wheels. You may see love as more of an exercise in hard work, but I see it as more of a breakfast on the go.”

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