Start with Why
I don’t get a whole lot of time to read these days. Between teaching and planning and keeping up with my two little boys and my husband, I barely have time to breathe. So, to get some reading in, I sometimes listen to audiobooks while I’m driving. Recently, I read Start with Why by Simon Sinek.
I was blown away.
“Why” is the Problem
First, it’s a great read, and I highly recommend it! Sinek spends much of the book looking at Apple as his primary example of a company that starts with “Why.” What is “why”? It’s the purpose, the belief, the reason behind why we do what we do. Sound easy, right? But it’s not. It’s so easy to confuse what we do or how we do it with our reason for doing it.
Sinek starts by explaining how Apple, Southwest Airlines, and other successful companies have transformed themselves by shifting their focus from what they do or how they do it to why they do it. This simple shift helped each company retreat from the edge of mediocrity and refocused it, turning each into a powerhouse in their respective industries.
I think this is what’s wrong in education today. It’s not as much of a problem in the trenches, at the level of individual teachers, but I do think it’s a problem that plagues the policy makers and politicians who decide to fate and direction of education in this country.
What and How have replaced Why
Much of education policy seems to focus on what we do: we must teach this concept, idea, or curriculum. We must make sure students graduate knowing this information and being able to think critically. Or we focus on how we do it: we must use technology to keep our lessons relevant and modern. We must differentiate our curriculum to reach every student.
Or my favorite: we must test every student to evaluate the teacher to make sure everything is being done properly and effectively. (There seems to be some breakdown of logic there, too, I think.)
Focusing on the Wrong Results
But the problem is, if you test the wrong thing, you get the wrong results. For example, Sinek talks about how a particular airline’s employees were miserable and unhappy and the company was also doing poorly. A new executive came in and, instead of focusing on instituting more rules and regulations to “fix” how things functioned, he focused on improving employee morale. And, interestingly, as morale among the employees improved, so did the company’s revenue!
Sounds like education, right? Policymakers and politicians are instituting rules and regulations to “fix” teachers, which is making teachers (and students, arguably) pretty miserable. (Sure, teachers are struggling to stay positive and do what we do for the love of the why, but this is often an uphill battle in the face of an increased focus on testing and complex evaluation systems.)
Stepping Back and Refocusing
But what if policymakers and politicians stepped back and thought about why we need to educate students. What is the belief behind education? What is the passion that drives education?
What would happen if we improved the morale of those in the trenches (the teachers and students) by broadcasting a clear Why, and letting that Why inform each decision made about how to teach and what to teach (including what and how to assess)?
If those at the top would start with there, I think education would make some big steps forward.
So, the question that I’m challenged to ask myself, and what I challenge you to ask yourself is,
“What’s my Why?”