One Piece of Advice for Any Teacher, Anywhere

WHY comes first.

I work with lots of teachers and I am in lots of schools. It occurred to me not so long ago that the way teachers teach–and the way teacher education programs teacher teachers to teach–is all backward. In his Ted Talk on leadership, Simon Sinek argues that there is always a WHY, a WHAT, and a HOW to consider when communicating with groups of people in order to get something done. He says that most leaders tend to default to talking about WHAT they are doing or talking about HOW they will do it. But the key to great leadership is to start with WHY.

To be honest, I was quite skeptical upon watching the video. But I did. Then I read his book. Then I designed a teaching methods course around his concepts. All of it has led me to say that a secret to reimagining our teaching and learning is WHY.

For many in education, it is all WHAT and HOW. What do I teach? Whatever standards my district tells me to. How do I teach? Well, my district uses the Danielson Framework to evaluate me. The problem is that no one is helping ask the most important question: Why do I teach at all and why teach this content this way?

When you start with WHY, you uncover a world of pedagogical possibilities. You challenge your own assumptions about what teaching can look like. You open yourself up to your own baggage on the one hand and the gifts of your students on the other. Starting with WHY is, for me, the single most important move any teacher at any age can make. Unlike content standards or teacher evaluation rubrics, no one else can tell us this. WHY is on us.

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