Why | How | What

The title and content within this post comes from Thomas Hoerr, as I was inspired by his article entitled "Why?" in the November 2014 edition of Educational Leadership.  In this article, Hoerr challenges the reader to think about the "why" before the "how" and "what."  For example, when launching a change or initiative within your organization or defining your work, direct your attention to why, rather than what or how.  Let me explain.  When everyone in the learning community understands why there needs to be a change (supported by data of course), they are much more likely to buy in and support the initiative or new way of conducting business. It's not that we don't explain the why when we are bringing forth changes; however, it is not common that we start here. Traditionally we start by explaining what it is and how we will do this within our system.  Simon Sinek has written a book on this concept entitled, Start with Why and also delivered a very popular TED talk about this subject.

Sinek refers to "The Golden Circle" with why in the middle surrounded by how and what.  The best leaders start by answering and explaining why before moving to the how and what.  By starting with why, people are able to understand your greater purpose.  Sinek says over and over within this talk, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."  Sinek goes on to say that most organizations and people start with what and how, and then explain the why, which he believes is backward.

At the beginning of last year at Epworth and Farley Elementary Schools, we fully implemented the Response to Intervention (RtI) model of instruction and we (I) went about it wrong.  I started talking about this model of instruction the year before with all of our staff members, what it is, what it will look like within our scheduled day, how we will monitor progress, and how we are going to make this work with the resources that we have, etc.  I felt good about my communication efforts and felt that our teachers and staff members came into the school year with a pretty good understanding of this model and what we were trying to accomplish.

What if in these initial plans I started with why to implement this model of instruction?  What if started by explaining a system that would allow students to receive the instruction and intervention that they needed to be successful without adding additional time to the day?  What if I started by telling our people that this structure would provide a systematic way to to meet the needs of our students who are on the "bubble" and seem to be slipping through the cracks?  By starting with why in this particular scenario, I"m confident that I would have been able to inspire our staff members even more to support this work.  I feel good about our implementation of Response to Intervention; however, I cannot help but think how much better it could have been if I could go back and articulate why first.  By starting with why, we have the ability to touch people's hearts while tapping into their passions.

This type of thinking applies to teachers as well when they are planning lessons for students. Teachers will continue to explain what students will learn and how they will go about doing so within their instructional objectives, but think about how this could become even more powerful by adding the element of why and starting there.  Every one of us wants to develop proficient readers and master all of the standards within our grade/content areas.  Kids know this, but are we communicating why?  When we do communicate why, we see the whole child and understand our students as more than learners.

I have made thousands of decisions in my career and will have thousands more on the horizon.  To make the best decisions and move our people in a common direction toward greatness, I have decided to follow Sinek's model, as it forces me to truly define what I want and what is best.  When people know why, they have a purpose and are much more likely to be inspired by that purpose.  Start with why before moving to how and what.  Commit to be great.          

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