Part II: Know Your Why – What is Your Why?

Part II: Know Your Why – What is Your Why?

For a few years now, Simon Sinek’s notion of The Golden Circle has been popular, especially in the corporate world.

In his books and his TED Talks, Sinek points to the powerful simplicity of the idea. By understanding their what, how and why, organizations and people can maximize their potential and their well-being. Sinek uses a simple diagram of three successively smaller overlapping circles to show the relationship among what, how and why.

  1. What (outer circle) reflects the things that organizations or people do.
  2. How (middle circle) reflects how organizations or people do what they do.
  3. Why (inner circle) reflects the essential reason(s) that organizations or people do what they do.

Sinek goes on to say that most organizations and people know what they do and how they do it, but fewer know their why. Sinek points to the example of Apple as a company that not only understands its what (we make excellent computers) and its how (the computers are user-friendly and beautifully designed), but also its why (we think differently and challenge the status quo). The result of knowing your why is a powerful guiding force that can keep an organization or a person perpetually and highly motivated.

This is the second in a series of articles on this theme.

Your Assignment

Think about a teacher, coach or administrator from your K-12 education who had a positive impact on your life. This should be a person you still remember quite clearly who will never escape your memory because of the positive impact they had.

With that person in mind, consider the following questions: Why was the impact so positive? Why do you remember? Why was this person a good teacher, coach or administrator?

As you think about those questions, return your thinking to Simon Sinek’s concept of the Golden Circle referenced above. Was it WHAT the person did that differentiated them? Sure, it could be. Maybe they taught a certain subject that you loved. But WHAT does not go a long way to distinguish the person you thought of from all the educators who did the same thing. Was it HOW they did things? Likely, it was. There’s no doubt you deeply appreciated the approach, techniques, processes, etc., that the person you have in mind used. Perhaps this was the best math teacher you ever had because of her fun teaching style.

Despite the WHAT and HOW being strong in your memory, my belief is that the person communicated their WHY to you, and that’s the most important reason you remember them years later. In thinking about this person, did things like passion, caring and commitment come to mind? This was likely their WHY shining through. It is their deep-seated passion for what they do.

Why I’m an Educator: Two Stories

At Currey Ingram Academy, we are all studying and sharing our WHYs in a series of all-staff meetings and other settings. This has caused me to reflect on WHY I am an educator. Two stories come to mind.
I was a first-year, sixth-grade teacher in 1995. We were barely into the school year, and I saw “George” hiding in the hallway at recess time. I asked George why he was not out for recess with the other students. It was clear after a few moments that he was upset. He missed his friends from his previous school.

I knew that George liked baseball, and he brought his mitt to school every day. Being a sixth-grader at heart myself, I told him we could play catch at recess. So we did. He was waiting for me the next and the day after that. This went on for four or five recess periods. George started making friends, and soon he was playing catch with other sixth-graders.

Seven years later, George was back visiting the Lower School as the Head Prefect of the Upper School. For those who do not know the traditions of classic independent schools, this is the most prestigious honor a student can have.

Like all Head Prefects before him, George was asked to come down to the Lower School and impart some advice on the younger students. As part of his talk, he shared the story of himself as a “lost” sixth-grader and how his sixth-grade teacher throwing the baseball with him for a few recesses was an important part of his Lower School experience. I’m sure he appreciated WHAT I taught him in language arts and HOW I taught it, but his story is more about my WHY. I had gone into teaching because I wanted to change lives.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was walking from my office to another building on the Currey Ingram campus. Students were out playing as part of our afterschool program, and “Johnny” ran up to me yelling my name. He gave me a big bear hug. I asked Johnny how things were going, especially because he had made the transition from elementary to middle school. He said he was really enjoying life in our middle school and sincerely added that he felt he was really understanding math this year.

Johnny was in my fourth-grade math class last year, and I must say there were many times that I wondered whether I was reaching him. It was heartwarming to hear him talk positively about math. I am Head of this amazing school because I know children who learn differently can learn to love even the subjects they formerly rejected. This is my WHY for working at Currey Ingram Academy.

Pointing Your Children Toward their Own Why

I suspect that when you thought about the educator, administrator or coach who impacted your life, their WHY shone through. Last month, I shared that our school strives to help students discover their WHY by intentionally developing student strengths, involving students in reflection and goal-setting, and using personalized plans for every student. However, each of our teachers, administrators and coaches has his or her own WHY for getting up every day to deliver on this promise.

As you reflect on those educators who made such a difference in your life, maybe tell a few of those stories to your children. Ask them about those educators they have already identified as memorable. If your children are very young, maybe help them to start to frame their experiences in this way by encouraging them to ask their teachers why they teach. I think you will find that your children are already sensing the WHY behind the most meaningful adults in their lives — and, along the way, increasing their own understanding of their own WHY.

I hope the first month of school has been smooth and affirming for you and your children. I look forward to writing several more articles on this theme.

14354_extra_credit_fhp-300x300-150x150Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is the head of school for Currey Ingram Academy. “Extra Credit” is provided each month by Currey Ingram Academy to help parents at all schools and at all stages of the parenting journey. Currey Ingram Academy is a coed, independent K-12 school in Brentwood for students with learning differences such as dyslexia and ADHD. For more information, click here.

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