What will be your legacy?

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“You are doing this not only for your children and grandchildren,” I explain to hospice patients and their families as we begin to plan a video of their life stories. “This video is for generations not yet born, those who will follow you but will never know you personally.”

The stories patients tell during the videotaping typically describe the events of their lives.

But they are also stories of legacy in which patients discuss the challenges they faced, the lessons they learned, and the wisdom they offer to future generations.

Educators also have legacies that begin to accumulate from their earliest days in the classroom or principal’s office. Sometimes we only learn of those legacies many years later when  students seek us out to tell us about the positive effect our words or actions had on their lives.

While some of our words and actions arise spontaneously in the moment, our legacies need not be totally left to chance.

We can intentionally affect our legacies by:

  • Periodically reviewing the purposes and values that drew us to teaching and that may have continued to evolve since then.
  • Reflecting on the extent to which our daily words and actions match those purposes and values.
  • Preparing a “legacy statement” explaining the values and personal qualities we want to exemplify in our work. We can remind ourselves of our intentions each day by posting the statement in a planning book or by using digital tools. And we can further clarify and strengthen our commitment to those purposes by sharing these statements with others in the school community.

Whether we intend it or not, principals and teachers leave their mark on countless students across their careers.

By reflecting on the nature of the legacy we want to leave and by taking deliberate steps to cultivate those qualities in our lives, we are more likely at the end of careers to look back with satisfaction and to be able to articulate and offer our wisdom to those who follow.

2 Responses to “What will be your legacy?”


  1. 1 Kim March 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    Today on the CBC Pope Francis was described as a man who is an excellent listener, a skill that is purposefully practiced by the Jesuits. This character trait was cited as one that would help the new pope to succeed in his role as leader of the Catholic faith.

    It seems simple, but there is so much power in the act of listening! Both parties involved can gain insight into potentially new situations and topics, both feel appreciated as they enjoy the experience of one-on-one attention, and both can contribute to the discovery of solutions to any issue at hand.

    When I sit with a friend, family member, colleague, student, parent, or guardian, I focus on hearing them, on listening empathically to them. I become a caring sounding board for them and afterwards, I believe that we are each a little more capable of taking on the daily challenges in our lives. I like to imagine that others feel empowered by being heard. I hope that every once in a while, someone leaves a conversation with me feeling validated, stronger, and ready to take on the world with a little more confidence.

    I am similar to Pope Francis in that I do not aspire to become a pope (this apparently is an unspoken oath of the Jesuits). I am different from the new pope in many ways, including the fact that I shall never become a pope. But, I do hope that when all is said and done, people who knew me might say, “She heard me, she listened, she cared, as the pope did for his followers, and I was better for it.” That would be quite an acceptable legacy.

  2. 2 Dennis Sparks March 14, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    You have expressed yourself incredibly well, Kim. You have described a legacy to which we all can aspire.


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