Teach & Serve II, No. 38 – Intention and Purpose Rooted in “Why”

Teach & Serve II, No. 38 – Intention and Purpose Rooted in “Why”

April 26, 2017

If we know why we are doing what we are doing, we can move ahead with intention. We can move ahead with shared purpose. We can move ahead with common understanding.

I have written in past posts about knowing the “why” of our shared work in education. Simon Sinek, the motivational speaker and marketing expert writes eloquently and convincingly in his books Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last about how important knowing why we do what we do really is. He contends that many companies and leaders – for our purposes, schools and teachers and administrators – do not take the time to uncover why they do what they do. He contends that most begin with the “what,” not the “why.”

It is easy to agree with his point.

When we think about the task we face as teachers and administrators, the what is ever in our view. What do we do? We lead our staffs so our teachers can teach our students so our students can learn (skills, knowledge, critical thinking, values) so our students can master so our students can grow so our students can graduate… The what is our meat and potatoes. Being successful at the what keeps our doors open, our retention rates up, students in our desk, money in our budgets. We cannot undervalue the what.

But we can overvalue it or, perhaps, we can get the order of operations wrong.

All too often, leaders look at tasks – at the what – and do not ask the question of why they are asking their constituents to do what they are asking them to do. The what is typically obvious. It is typically tangible. The why? Not so much.

When I was a young teacher at a Jesuit high school, the staff had gathered for a faculty meeting and one of the subjects of the meeting was a discussion of the ways in which we could increase enrollment at the school. We talked and brainstormed and suggested and argued about the topic. In the back of the room, one of my colleagues quietly sat with his hand raised and the principal, who was conducting the conversation, seemed to avoid calling on him and did not for quite a while. Finally, he did.

“Um,” my friend said graciously, “should we be talking about getting smaller instead of getting larger?”

Pin. Drop.

It was such a bizarre question and so far out of left field in the context of the conversation the principal was holding that the principal did not even know how to address it. He blew right by the question and called on someone else. I am not sure I would have handled the situation any differently.

True story.

My colleague’s question dealt with why. My principal’s conversation was all about what.

If we know why we are doing what we are doing, we can move ahead with intention. We can move ahead with shared purpose. We can move ahead with common understanding.

And we can be special as we do.

You do not believe me? Take a look at comedian Michael Jr. as he discusses knowing your why. Take a look and get a sense of why you do what you do.