The #onewordONT Challenge: Aspire

by | December 30, 2017 | 2 comments

There are two things that drew me to Julie Balen’s challenge to participate in this years’ #onewordONT challenge: Please considering joining this year’s #onewordOnt Here’s an Introduction… #onted #ontedleaders Please retweet — Julie Balen (@jacbalen) December 26, 2017 First, the idea of choosing a word at the start of a year has been […]

There are two things that drew me to Julie Balen’s challenge to participate in this years’ #onewordONT challenge:

First, the idea of choosing a word at the start of a year has been part of my personal practice since 1987 when friends, Roger and Patricia Kenyon, and I would perch high atop the cliffs at Rockwood Park each Labour Day to make New School Year resolutions. For close to a decade, we ended each of these sessions with the declaration of a single word that would serve the dual purpose of accompanying us through the year AND holding us account in terms of our resolutions.

It was a practice that continued when I got married.  Zoe and I would spend time each New Year’s Eve recording the comings and goings of the previous 12 months and, at the end of the reflection, she would turn to me, pen in hand, ready to record my single word for the coming year.

I’m amazed at how powerful words are and, at the same time, how inadequate they can be at expressing what we truly mean. The richness and complexity of the human experience can never be fully held by the words we use. (Perhaps that is why two different programs have emerged on voicEd Radio that seek to dig deeper into the words that we use in our lives as educators.)

But, I like the challenge. I like it a lot! And it didn’t take long for me to decide on my #onewordONT commitment for 2018: ASPIRE. It’s a powerful word that has, not surprisingly, been appropriated for commercial use.  (Check out the results of a Google Image search on the word!)

Like inspire, perspire and expire, the word aspire is rooted in the Latin word spirare, meaning to breathe. Literally, aspire means to breathe or blow upon. Beyond its roots, however, the word has come to be associated with a striving for something, a reaching beyond oneself, a long-term goal. Aspirations aren’t timed events and may never be fully attained. But that’s not really the point. To aspire is to dream, to hope and to hold onto a desire for something greater–greater than oneself and greater than one’s current circumstance.

There is a sense in which aspirations, like inspirations are very personal. They can be expressed publicly. On some level, they may even be shared and held in common. But they remain rooted in our individual human imaginations and, like integrity, can never be fully uprooted from that point of origin.

The word is important for me and I am committing to holding it close throughout the year. But I also want to explore how the word might encourage us to think about our work in education in a different way. In what ways is my current learning life aspirational? What personal practices do I have that will allow me to stay in touch with my aspirational self?

To what degree do our current policies and practices give us the space and freedom to reach beyond the status quo and into a different sort of future? Does life in our classrooms encourage our students to dream big with a sense of curiosity and wonder? Where is the balance between being grounded and taking flight?

These are just some of the questions that are on my mind as I prepare to begin 2018, accompanied by the word aspire? I look forward to the journey and to the exploration. I’m sure I will see you along the way!


  1. Helen DeWaard

    Stephen, this reflection and word choice resonates for me! It’s interesting to see that the root of this word connects to breathing since often what we aspire towards leaves us breathless and when we achieve an aspiration it is breathtaking! This word could potentially be a lifetime word since we don’t ever stop aspiring! Looking forward to your reflections on this in the coming year!
    Helen DeWaard

    • admin

      Hi Helen!

      I agree that this word may be bigger than just this year! I love the “breathless-breathtaking” rhythm that you suggest. We don’t stop aspiring; we don’t stop breathing! At least, not as long as we are alive. Looking forward to the further exploration of this word!



  1. 2018: One Word. | Connecting to Learn - […] Derek”), I want to ‘poke and prod’ the word to see what it will give up. Like Stephen Hurley,…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *