Use this tool to discover your own unique Why,
or even to craft a Why statement for yourself, your school, or your classroom
The phrase “Your ‘why'” is enough to elicit anything from a knowing nod, to a proud smile, to an over-it eye-roll in the business world; it’s common lingo over there. Over here in education land, though, this whole “find your why” thing hasn’t quite found legs just yet.
At Co-CreatED, we love building bridges, breaking down silos, and learning across industries. So let’s take a page outta the business book and figure out: what could these “Why” statements look like in schools and even in classrooms?
Simon Sinek broke records with the popularity of his 2009 TEDx talk, “,” marking the start of the WHY revolution in the business world. To this day, his is one of the most-watched TEDx talks of all time, which incidentally proves one of his main points in the talk: people are drawn to purpose.Take a look at the power of Why:
In his talk, Sinek flipped the “What & How” paradigm– the more common way of “selling” an idea– on its head, encouraging leaders instead to start with Why.
He illustrated this concept with what he called The Golden Circle, then connected it to brain science to explain why humans respond so well to it:
From there, Sinek pointed out the differences between those who made history and those who did not. He highlighted hitory-makers ranging from MLK jr., to The Wright Brothers, to Apple. What set these figures apart in their various spaces? What took them from ordinary to extraordinary? The common thread:
They knew their why. It was clear and it was at the forefront.
Apple didn’t say, we make good computers. They said, we get you: we think different.
MLK jr. didn’t say, I have a plan. He said, I have a dream.
The Wright brothers didn’t say, let’s get rich. They said, let’s change the course of human history.
In Golden CIrcle terms, these three were success stories because they went from the inside out instead of the outside in. They started with why. They gave us something we could feel, something we could believe in.
Sometimes it helps to see an idea in practice to really understand how it works in application.
Here is a collection of companies who have strong, clear WHYs:
How Does This Apply in Ed?
“People don’t buy [in to] what you do. They buy [in to] why you do it.”
This is the phrase Sinek repeated throughout his talk, and for good reason. For translating this to education world, I added the “in” and the “to,” because in our world we’re not talking literally buying; we’re talking buy-in.
We want all stakeholders bought into the why– the higher purpose, the deeper meaning– of educating students.
This has a few implications for both school-level leaders* and classroom-level leaders*.
* = At Co-CreatED, We use the term classroom leaders instead of “teachers,” and school leaders instead of “administrators.” These terms fit more accurately and help people outside the field of education understand the professionalism of our work. Teachers are leaders of classrooms. They do much more than teach, and they deserve to be recognized as the professionals they are. Administrators are leaders of schools, similar to a president or a C-suite executive. Words matter.
For School Leaders:
The area where this Why stuff matters most for you: Hiring and retention.
Hiring and retaining a great staff comes down to1 key ingredient: buy-in. Let’s break it down.
Of course we hire educators to… well, educate. Duh. But that’s just the what.
Sure, we also want them to do a really good job of educating. Of course. But that’s still just the how.
We have to remember that interviews are ALWAYS a 2-way street, and the folks you’re interviewing are wondering:
Why should they pick your school?
Why is it the right fit, and the kind of purpose they want to get behind?
Why should they buy into this whole thing?
It’s all about the Why!
To hire the right people, amplify your Why.
- When recruiting, talk about what you believe to attract others who believe the same. If we know that people are drawn to purpose, then draw them to yours by making your Why clear. If it matches their own, they will be eager to pursue.
- The next step after recruiting is making the actual hiring decisions, and you want to pick people who actually stick around. For this to happen, you have to hire people who believe what you believe, and who believe in what your organization stands for. When someone chooses a job based on aligning with their own beliefs and purpose, then they feel they are being true to themselves, and that’s the kind of job that has long-term staying power. Hello, increased retention and reduced turnover!
Many school leaders will remember the classic Jim Collins “right people on the bus” analogy.
The right people get on the bus because they are bought into an organization’s Why– it inspires them and it aligns with their own personal why.
They stay on the bus when, over time, the organization remains true to the Why they signed up for in the first place.
Reason #2 for school leaders
The other way a strong Why benefits you? Staff & Student Morale.
Quick self-check… Could your staff and/or students articulate your school’s Why? If not, it might be time to rally the troops and get clear on your Why ASAP.
If you ask around and get answers like, “to get good grades, or get into college, or get a good job,” …that’s a red flag. Those aren’t purpose; they’re results. Results and purpose are very different things (just like Sinek’s example in the video– making profit or getting rich are results, not purpose). They are not a Why.
Why goes bigger. It inspires, it motivates. Your Why gets at the core of your beliefs. Why is a feeling. And when that feeling is shared and strongly felt amongst staff and students alike, morale is at its best.
For Classroom Leaders
The area where this Why stuff matters most for you at the classroom level: Student engagement.
Again, it’s all about buy-in. Let’s break it down.
We spend a big chunk of our time giving directions to students, which mainly come in the form of WHAT to do or HOW to do it. How often are you describing WHY to do something? Likely only when a student asks, and at that point, likely with a justifiably annoyed tone at best, or a “because I said so” at worst.
What if we started with why instead?
The Why-Before-How Formula =
“Since we [reason; why], I need you to [action; what] + [in this way; how].”
Imagine answering your students’ question before they even ask it. It saves you time and annoyance, and it gives them the answer they’re looking for right off the bat. In my experience, it became my go-to classroom management hack for preventing power struggles (no need to challenge or distrust authority when the authority figure is making their purpose and intent crystal clear).
And that’s just for the little everyday Whys. What about the big Whys?
Imagine if you and your students came together and wrote your shared Why, the purpose that would guide your work together for the year. It gives everyone something to anchor to, something to aim for, something to measure by. It aligns you in a common direction, bigger than yourselves. Purpose is unifying.
PS: Bonus tip for both School Leaders AND Classroom Leaders…
The why-before-how approach applies just as well in adult-to-adult interactions as it does adult-to-child. Give it a go with your colleagues and see! People appreciate knowing the purpose first and foremost. It makes the rest of the interaction much smoother.
Now Try It Yourself (with a freebie!)
Sinek was so passionate about the idea of being purpose-driven and leading from a why-before-how position, he wrote not one, but TWO great books on the subject:
Reading the books was a huge growing experience for me personally and professionally, so I can’t recommend these books highly enough. I would love for you to have a growing experience like that, too! So to accompany your reading of these books, I put together a free guide you can use. It comes straight from the Find Your Why book, and it’s called The Why Discovery Tool for Individuals.
This tool is for anyone interested in living with a clearer sense of purpose– it applies across any field of work, any job title. Use it to find out your own personal why!
This Why Discovery could be a great exercise to do as a whole school or whole team, so colleagues could share their Whys with each other and develop a shared sense of purpose and passion within your organization.
It could also be adapted for use with students: wouldn’t it be cool for students to get an early start on identifying their own Whys?
Hope you enjoy finding your Why and using it to maximize your gifts in your school or classroom!Let us know in the comments,