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.
25 thoughts on “The Power of WHY – My Very First Blog Post”
I like it !! 🙂
and haven’t we all been guilty of jumping to the wrong conclusion…and regretting it instantly.
If we take the time to better understand others, we can minimize those ‘wrong conclusions’ more often. Thank you for your kind words.
This is my favourite line “By ensuring that we share the WHY we provide the intention and motivation for others to be part of the movement…” and reminds me very much of what was discussed in my Master of Ed course this summer, at VIU. It also reminds me why I spend so long making a parent-newsletter each week (or adding comments to Freshgrade). When parents/guardians know WHY we do what we do, they are better able to support their child’s learning and our practice. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your thinking with us. Excited to be part of the movement!
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Thanks, Monika. This is a leap of faith for me. I am hoping that it encourages others to take a risk in their learning and their doing as well.
Great start, Dave! Looking forward to your next post….WHY?…..because I’m intrigued!
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Thanks, Barb. It’s been a great adventure to get this launched. Next one should be in a week or two. WHY? Why not!
The Power of WHY is a breath of fresh air that is welcome in our district.
Thank you for your kind words, Laura. I look forward to the year ahead and being able to share some additional thoughts.
John C. Daresh in his book What it Means to be a Principal says that “Administrators represent many people. They represent not only their own personal value and belief systems but also the orientation of the entire school or district” Kudos to you on your blog, as the values you share are sure to influence and shape many individual action plans!
Thank you very much, Mary Lynn. I appreciate the feedback and comments. It encourages me to write some more as I head into this unchartered territory for me.
Thank you for your thoughtful post today Dave. When a leader can clearly articulate the WHY underpinning a desired direction or change, his/her people will surely follow. And what teacher or parent hasn’t had a student ask WHY they had to do something? If we can’t give our students the answer, how can we expect them to be motivated to undertake the learning?
Totally agree with you, Julia. We need to find the time to ask WHY and explain WHY. If we don’t, we end up spinning our wheels and getting nowhere quickly. Thanks for taking the time to write your comments.
Good job – I can add very little else.
Thanks, mom! Not sure that you’re very objective though.
Excellent start, I liked it!!!
I may add that there is a Problem Solving Methodology called “5-WHYs” that it is used to find Root Cause(s) of a Problem. But this is most oriented in Manufacturing and Enterprise Areas. The way you presented it was perfect for People Relationship.
Thank you, Benito. I may try to find some time to read the “5-WHYs” you mention.
I like it. While When, What, Where and Who are simple exchanges of fact, and How, at its best, is a negotiation of mutual effort, Why builds bridges. In sharing intention and understanding, Why can create common ground and a collective frame for thinking, living, and being together. Used well (and often), Why creates a community.
A good start (If I can say that without condescension). Thanks for taking the uncertain path. Require the same bravery of your students (including my daughters) and you’ll have my full support.
Thanks, Tim. It’s my passion to instill a sense of wonder and exploration in our students — WHY is the way to deeper understanding and commitment.
I loved your first Blog and immediately thought of the work we have been doing with Ross Greene. It is such a powerful question and can totally re frame the interaction we have with others.
Absolutely. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Heather.
Dave – I look forward to your future posts; this first one certainly got me thinking. What resonated for me was your statement that “why” is as much the reason as it is the question, as your story from room#9 showed so clearly. And, how the question and guiding thought of “why” is so grounded in communication and relationships – perhaps a “signpost” question as we do our work in schools and reflect on our path. As we ask why. Thanks Dave.
Thanks for taking the time to write your comments, Philip. Relationships are the crucial key as we work to build competent, compassionate and thoughtful people in our schools.
Great start on the blogging road! Taking a PAUSE before reacting and asking a reflective question like “Why?” is a skill that serves teachers and leaders well. All the best to you in SD63!
Thanks for taking the time to check-in, Glenn. I appreciate your comments.
What a great post and reflection on an important word we seem to understand so intuitively as a child. As a mom of two it was one of the most common words I heard as my son and then my daughter sought to understand the wonder of the world and the people around them. “Mommy, why are my eyes brown and your eyes blue?” “Mommy, why do I have to go to bed now?” “Mommy, why is that girl crying? “Mommy, why is my fish on the top of the water?” “Mommy, why do I have to go to school?”
It is strange how as adults we get caught up in the everyday need to move forward and forget to take the time to ask the questions that come so naturally to us as young children. Taking the time to ask and explore the “why” and perhaps the “what if” is foundation to building a community of understanding and a future society that is curious, thoughtful, reflective and can work together to tackle the new and evolving challenges of our communities and world.
Thank-you for reminding us to be curious and take the time needed to understand. I look forward to your future posts!
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