Prince, Beyoncé, and Your Education Career

The past few weeks have seen the death of purple music royalty, the birth of Lemonade “stands” around the globe, and lots of thought pieces attempting to make sense of it all. You might not naturally think that Prince and Beyoncé have any connection to your career in education, but I beg to differ!

Be like Prince. Stick to your values.

Fan or not, Prince has always been synonymous with standing up for clear ideals and never wavering from them. Though there are many ways to be involved in education, the best educators – the ones who get the greatest results for students and whom parents and teachers alike cherish – are always the ones who have a clear personal north star that guides their actions and choices.

Despite this truth, many people approach a career search by casting a wide net, applying to whichever jobs match their qualifications. I call this the “I hope they like me” method:

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  • Your resume and cover letter speak to what you think the hiring manager wants to hear but tells them nothing about your inner essence or what you stand for.
  •  You don’t bother to find out if the organization’s values match your own, and six months later you wonder why you feel misaligned with your colleagues and the work you’re asked to do.

If this is you, stop it!

This is not the time to “keep hope alive”. Do you think Prince would have ever applied for a job where he was solely focused on hoping he got hired? Nope.

Prince would approach a career search with clarity about what he wanted to do day-to-day, prepare application materials that reinforced those values, and then weave them into selection steps with knowledge that the process was just as much about him choosing them as it was about them choosing him. He would make clear what he was about, which things he values most and carry those principles through the application process into and throughout his job.

A friend and colleague in education equity recently exemplified the “Prince approach” as she applied for a senior education leadership position with a prestigious organization. This is the kind of organization and position that will look great on her resume and that she is excited about considering because of the potential impact on student achievement and career development she would receive. Still, in asking me to review her cover letter, she explained how it was important that her core values came through, believing that if this organization didn’t like who she really was it would be assurance that the organization wasn’t right for her!

Be like Beyoncé. Make lemons out of lemonade.

Despite lots of speculation and discussion surrounding what Queen Bey most wants you to learn from her latest visual album release, there is no question that one key message is adherence to the old “turn lemons into lemonade” epigram. This perspective serves educators well as they navigate through a field full of uncontrollable factors and ups and downs. Still, those who are really rocking their work are the ones that turn lemons into lemonade by making the best of seemingly impossible situations.

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With this attitude, Beyoncé would surely be proud of the teachers working in less than optimal facilities, the leaders without strong coaching or mentoring to lean on, and the district administrators faced with countless bureaucratic roadblocks, all who still manage to get great results for their students. Seemingly the entire public education profession requires those who work within it to find creative ways to make lemonade by avoiding the urge to run away from challenges while instead holding their students in possibility of all they can achieve with the right symbolic mix of lemon, water, and sugar.

  • Do you know an educator who is still getting everything done while also holding a study group during their lunch break or covering classes for a teacher who is out on leave?
  • Have you heard of any education nonprofits whose staff take on more responsibilities rather than say no to serving more students?
  • Have you seen a principal multi-task by simultaneously leading meetings with teachers, emailing responses to parents, and reviewing student data in order to get everything done before attending the school’s championship basketball game that night?
  • What about the educator who advocates for the student that everyone else has labeled troubled, challenged, or unteachable?
  • Or the education writer who pushes against the status quo to promote anti-racist actions and policies in the education system?

Everyday, education professionals throughout the sector are squeezing all the juice out of the lemon and mixing in the right ingredients to make a sour situation sweet. Did Beyoncé’ realize how her words might encourage those of us who fight for educational freedom for all kids?

So when you face those moments in your education career where you feel more “let’s go crazy than “baby, I’m a star,” use the opportunity to channel your inner Prince and remember what you stand for. And when life keeps throwing you lemons, don’t give up. Instead tell yourself what Beyoncé would say-- “I’ma keep runnin’ cause a winner don’t quit on themselves” -- and start making lemonade.