Before I dive headfirst into the blogosphere for the first time, I felt it was important to explain WHY I’m using the word WHY so prominently in my blog. When I settled on the title, it admittedly raised some eyebrows. The handful of people I told had that “He’s not thinking clearly” look on their face. I think the following reasons might best describe how this small yet powerful word (WHY) has come to shape my daily interactions with others:
- “Always ask WHY”
- “WHY is the reason – As Much as it is the Question”
Always ask WHY
My teaching career started in Room #9 in the south building of Burnaby North Secondary School. The class was Science 9. I was green, I was eager and I wanted to make a difference.
This one particular student had a habit of coming in late to most of my classes. It was frustrating. She arrived late again one day and I hastily accused her of being disrespectful and inconsiderate — again. It would be one of the last times I made that mistake in my teaching career. I assumed something that in the end was actually incorrect. She became upset and told me I had no idea what was happening to her and that if I really cared about my students I would have asked her WHY she was late rather than jumping to my conclusion that she was being inconsiderate.
She was right — I was wrong.
Even if all of her previous late arrivals to my class were without good reason, I needed to ask her every time. As a teacher, I owed her that. The lesson for me was that it could only take one instance of being careless with my words, making incorrect assumptions and conclusions, and I could damage my relationship with a student.
This personal moment of failure has stayed with me to this day – almost 30 years later – reminding me to always ask WHY before coming to a conclusion or decision. It has affected me in both my professional and personal lives. It has been a central part of how I choose to interact with people – intentionally, and with curiosity, respect and compassion.
We may think we know WHY something is happening, but until we ASK WHY we really don’t know. Understanding the context of the present situation, the relevant history of the person, and even what happened 10 seconds before you saw them – can all play significant roles in the reason for their behaviour – and hence your response to it. To be a trusting, thoughtful, reflective leader requires one to fully understand the situation before responding to it. Time and time again, I have noticed that when I respond without sufficient information I tend to make my mistakes. But what about WHO, WHAT, WHERE and WHEN? Aren’t they important questions? Absolutely, but to me none are as important as WHY. WHY is the question that gives us the reason. WHY explains the motivation for a behaviour, the explanation for what we are doing.
WHY is the Reason – As Much as It is the Question
I have a strong belief that WHY is the most important question we need to address in education. Simon Sinek is an internationally recognized motivational speaker who thoughtfully describes the importance of WHY in his book, “Start With Why”. We all have a WHY — WHY is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you do what you do every day.
As Superintendent, I believe that a critical part of my role is to share the WHY about public education. For example:
- WHY do we have a newly revised curriculum?
- WHY is self-regulation such an important part of the learning landscape?
- WHY is it so important for us to revisit the traditional report card and reimage it as a Communicating Student Learning process?
- WHY do we offer academies and other programs of choice in our system?
- WHY is triggering Inquiry in our students so important?
- And a multitude of other WHY questions …
By understanding the WHY we are doing something, we empower people with the knowledge of the reasons for our work. Once others understand the purpose for our work — then understanding WHO needs to the do the work, figuring out WHAT we do, HOW we do it, and WHEN we do it — all makes more sense. But we must always start with the WHY.
The Power of WHY
So the title of my blog, “The Power of WHY”, seemed like a good fit. WHY reminds me to take the time to understand something more fully. And WHY also reminds me to ensure that we communicate with others the reasons for our decisions and actions – especially in public education.
By ensuring that we share the WHY we provide the intention and motivation for others to be part of the movement — to be part of the team moving education forward to a better place. If people don’t know the WHY, there is much less of an opportunity for others to be fully engaged in the WHO, WHAT, WHERE and WHEN of public education.
My hope is that I can use my blog as an extension of my thinking on the importance of public education and the vision we have in Saanich. If I can also provide you with a window into my beliefs, passions and goals, then my blog has served an additional purpose.
I look forward to sharing my learnings, my musings and my questions as I settle into my new role serving you as Superintendent of Schools.