Apr 6, 2011
Comments Off on Changing the Order of Questions

Changing the Order of Questions

In Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why”, I came to change my perspective on how to think about, act upon and stimulate the education revolution.  The book’s core concept has re-defined my thinking.

The common precept of the book is the “Golden Circle” of leadership which define the three principle ways we think about what it is we do and the order in which we think them.  He connects the nature of the golden circle to the biology of the brain.

Essentially, he argues that we tend to start by defining WHAT it is we do, then HOW we do it and finishing with WHY we do what we do.  He uses various examples to show how success is often garnered by those who think about things in the opposite direction.  The have a clear understanding of WHY they do something, which drives HOW they do it and WHAT exactly they do.  The concept is quite clear when put into an educational context.

From teachers to students, we engage in the activities of school, professional development and community in various degrees, however, whenever we hit a difficult patch we can revert to one of those questions.  The clearer our understanding of WHY we are doing something, the easier it is to proceed.

Just this week a colleague of mine was having a stressful time.  She was feeling over-extended in the various activities she was involved in and was becoming disheartened in the process.  Her thought pattern was to bail on one of the activities that made her most frustrated.  However, while in discussion we came around to why she had signed up, why she was doing it.  With this her answer was clear, “I wanted to help give students an opportunity to be involved and to follow their passions.”  Once the statement was clear, she gladly was re-committed.

Sinek also provides some helpful quotes about the nature of education and how we resolve issues, one quote outlines quite clearly my apprehension with the over-use of data in education and its connection with standardized testing and grades.

“We understand that even with mountains of data and good advice, if things don’t go as expected, it’s probably because we missed one, sometimes small but vital detail.  In these cases, we go back to all our sources, maybe seek out some new ones, and try to figure out what to do, and the whole process begins again.  More data, however, doesn’t always help, especially if a flawed assumption set the whole process in motion in the first place.”

The outline for a teacher is to constantly be reviewing what is taking place in the classroom under the pretext of WHY, HOW and WHAT.  If students are given the WHY as the key ingeredient and it is clear, they will buy in if it aligns with their WHY.  In the same breath, if the WHY does not align with their thinking they will disengage.  I think that this ultimately connects to our requisite search for authenticity in learning.  When something is authentically learned, the WHY can clearly be defined.

The next step is to be disciplined in HOW we approach the lesson and our belief.  The final piece is the consistency of WHAT we do.

As Sinek states, “The only way people will know what you believe (Why) is by the things you say and do, and if you’re not consistent in the things you say and do, no one will know what you believe.”

In the perspective of a student, if a student learns for achievement (which is to say that we manipulate her WHY into things like grades, or scholarships, or the like), then she will stop once she’s reached it.  Her learning will cease to be important.  However, if we can help frame her learning into her belief (WHY) of school, she will never quit learning and it will become less important HOW she is learning and WHAT she is learning as those will be ever-changing, based on her passions.

Essentially, we as teachers need to talk more consistently about WHY we are doing what we are doing.  We have to stop defining ourselves by WHAT we do, and rather frame the work by the WHY.

This frames education in a more meaningful, profound way and scrutinizes more appropriately the teaching profession.

The conversations we have too often talk about WHAT we do in class, HOW the technology is going to improve learning, WHAT students are doing to push the boundaries.  Instead, we should be asking WHY.

This book has had a profound impact on me, I believe it to be an essential mind shift for teachers.

It is up to our leaders in education to clearly define the WHY of the system, when we clarify our belief about education, our actions of HOW and WHAT we do to make that happen should essentially improve.

These are some initial thoughts.  I continue to reflect on the impact of the book.

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