While all this “Why” language may be commonplace in the business world, it hasn't quite found legs in the education world just yet. At Co-Created, we love building bridges, breaking down silos, and learning across industries. So what could these “Why” statements look like in schools and even in classrooms?
Simon Sinek broke records with the popularity of his 2009 TEDx talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” marking the start of the WHY revolution in the business world. To this day, his is one of the most-watched TEDx talks of all time, which incidentally proves one of his main points in the talk: people are drawn to purpose.
Take a look at the power of Why:
In his talk, Sinek flipped the What & How paradigm-- the more common way of “selling” an idea-- on its head, encouraging leaders instead to start with Why. He illustrated this concept with what he called The Golden Circle, then connected it to brain science to explain why humans respond so well to it:
From there, Sinek pointed out the differences between those who made history and those who did not. He highlighted MLK jr., The Wright Brothers, and Apple. What set these figures apart? What took them from ordinary to extraordinary?
They knew their why. It was clear and it was at the forefront.
Apple didn’t say, we make good computers. They said, we get you: we think different.
MLK jr. didn’t say, I have a plan. He said, I have a dream.
The Wright brothers didn’t say, let’s get rich. They said, let’s change the course of human history.
In Golden CIrcle terms, these three were success stories because they went from the inside out instead of the outside in. They started with why. They gave us something we could feel, something we could believe in.
Sometimes it helps to see an idea in practice to really understand how it works in application.
Here is a collection of companies who have strong, clear WHYs:
“People don’t buy [in to] what you do. They buy [in to] why you do it.”
This is the phrase Sinek repeated throughout his talk, and for good reason.
For translating this to education world, I added the “in” and the “to.” We’re talking buy-in. We want all stakeholders bought into the why-- the higher purpose, the deeper meaning-- of educating students.
This has a few implications for both school-level leaders* and classroom-level leaders*.
* = At Co-Created, We use the term classroom leaders instead of "teachers," and school leaders instead of "administrators." These terms fit more accurately and help people outside the field of education understand the professionalism of our work. Teachers are leaders of classrooms. They do much more than teach, and they deserve to be recognized as the professionals they are. Administrators are leaders of schools, similar to a president or a C-suite executive. Words matter.
For school leaders, start by thinking of this one in terms of hiring and retention.
Of course we hire educators to educate-- but that’s just the what. Sure, we also want them to do a good job of educating-- but that’s still just the how. More importantly, though, why should they pick your school? Why is it the right fit and the kind of purpose they want to get behind? Why should they buy into this whole thing?
Hiring the right people: When recruiting, talk about what you believe to attract others who believe the same. Again, people are drawn to purpose. Draw them in by making your Why clear; if it matches their own, they will be eager to pursue.
Reducing turnover: The next step after recruiting is making the actual hiring decisions, and this is one of the most pivotal points in retention. The key? hire people who believe what you believe, and who believe in what your organization stands for. When someone chooses a job based on aligning with their own beliefs and purpose, then they feel they are being true to themselves. People do what they believe in, and they stick with it.
Many school leaders will remember the classic Jim Collins "right people on the bus" analogy. The right people get on the bus because they are bought into the why, and they stay on the bus when it stays true to the why they signed up for.
For classroom leaders, think about this "Why" stuff in terms of student motivation.
We spend a big chunk of our time giving directions to students, which mainly come in the form of WHAT to do or HOW to do it. How often are you describing WHY to do something? Likely only when a student asks, and at that point, likely with a justifiably annoyed tone at best, or a “because I said so” at worst.
What if we started with why? Imagine answering your students’ question before they even ask it. It saves you time and annoyance, and it gives them the answer they’re looking for right off the bat. In my experience, it became my go-to classroom management hack for preventing power struggles (no need to challenge or distrust authority when the authority figure is making their purpose and intent crystal clear).
PS: It applies just as well in adult-to-adult interactions as it does adult-to-child.
Why-Before-How Formula = “Since we [reason; why], I need you to [action; what] + [in this way; how].”
And that’s just for the little everyday Whys.
What about the big Whys?
Imagine if you and your students came together and wrote your shared Why, the purpose that would guide your work together for the year. It gives everyone something to anchor to, something to aim for, something to measure by. It aligns you in a common direction, bigger than yourselves. Purpose is unifying.
Back to you one more time, school leaders--
Could your staff and/or students articulate your school’s Why?
The purpose of going to school is not to get good grades, or get into college, or get a good job. Those are results, just like SInek’s example of making profit or getting rich are results. Results are different than purpose. They are not a why.
Why goes bigger. It inspires, it motivates. Your Why gets at the core of your beliefs. Why is a feeling.
TRY IT (with a freebie!)
Sinek was so passionate about the idea of being purpose-driven and leading from a why-before-how position, he wrote two great books on the subject: Start With Why to explain the concept in depth, then Find Your Why to serve as a companion workbook for applying the concepts in real life.
I highly recommend reading these books before or while using the tool below-- the tool will make MUCH more sense when paired with the books. Reading the books was a huge growing experience for me personally and professionally, and I would love for you to have that experience, too!
All leadership work starts with the self, so the first *freebie* tool here is the Why Discovery for Individuals.
What is your personal why?
Find out using the tool below, based on Sinek's book Find Your Why.
This tool is for anyone interested in living with a clearer sense of purpose-- it has nothing to do with your job title or field of work.
Getting back to the Why of Co-CreatED has been a journey. We are passionate about doing everything we can to make education humanizing and equitable for all students. We are laser-focused on that purpose, and we love helping other educators lead from a more purpose-driven place along with us.
Thank you for allowing yourself to envision a world where ALL students-- regardless of zipcode, SES, race, or ability-- reach their fullest potential.
Thank you for believing that all children have the right to a co-created education: an experience that is empowering, inclusive, rigorous, and supportive.
The path to learning is co-created; thanks for being a part of it.
So one last time as we wrap up the series:
What is YOUR why?
If you are a school leader or classroom leader interested in discovering a shared 'why' for the team you lead, we'd love to connect with you and help you reach your goals. Use the contact form below.
Today is Juneteenth!
In short, it is an incredibly special day in US History-- the day that commemorates the end of slavery.
But there is MUCH more to it than that.
To learn more, we want to specifically highlight articles from African-American news sources and African American journalists on the meaning and significance of this holiday. This is an important opportunity to amplify black voices and honor black perspectives on this topic-- to listen, to gain understanding, and to build bridges.
FIRST UP: AFRICAN-AMERICAN NEWS SOURCES
#1) "19 Juneteenth Events Taking Place Around the Country" from Blavity.
Article highlight: The title says it all :).
Source: Blavity’s mission is to be “a community of the most exceptional multi-cultural creators and influencers in the world. We partner with diverse content creators and influencers to help them reach a wider audience, amplify their message, and fund their hustles. We believe that the world shifts according to the way people see it— and if you change the way people view the world, you can transform it.”
#2) “6 Important Things You May Not Know About Juneteenth — But Should” from Atlanta Black Star
Article highlight: Did you know that the Mascogo people of Mexico celebrate Juneteenth, too?
Source: This one is local! Atlanta Black Star “was created to publish empowering narratives for all people of African descent and everyone who adheres to our culture. We publish narratives intentionally and specifically to enlighten and transform the world.” Their work is guided by a seven-point manifesto outlining their beliefs and values.
#3-4) One current article: 'An Idea Whose Time Has Come': Congress Hears the Case for Reparations on Juneteenth,
One throwback article: Black-ish Taught Me More About Slavery in 22 Minutes Than My Entire Education, both from The Root
Article highlight: Be sure to follow this case in congress, happening TODAY! And if you haven’t watched that Blackish episode yet, it is a must-watch!
Source: The Root provides readers with “Black News, Opinions, Politics and Culture.” From their Facebook page: “The Root provides an unflinching analysis of important issues in the black community through insightful and savvy commentary from black thought-leaders.” They also have a great series of videos on their Facebook page called “Unpack That,” which challenge racial issues in entertaining ways.
#5-6) Seven Things To Know About Juneteenth
*AND* Where All The Presidential Candidates Stand On Reparations, In Their Own Words
(since both are relevant today), both from NewsOne
Article(s) highlight: Interesting to read both today, given the historical significance of the date and the re-opening of the reparations conversation in recent news.
Source: About NewsOne.com, in their own words:
#7) “Cory Booker On Juneteenth And Honoring Our Ancestors: 'We Must Pay It Forward'” from Essence
Article highlight: "In his first op-ed for Essence, Cory Booker shares how the spirit of the holiday should be celebrated and how he would fulfill the legacies of those who fought for emancipation."
Source: Essence is one that has become a household name. In their words: "The ESSENCE Brand—Where Black Women Come First-- for news, entertainment and motivation. ESSENCE occupies a special place in the hearts of millions of Black women-- its not just a magazine but her most trusted confidante, a brand that has revolutionized the magazine industry and has become a cultural institution in the African-American community. Founded in 1968, Essence Communications Inc. (ECI) launched ESSENCE, the ground-breaking magazine created exclusively for African-American women. For 42 years, the company has flourished and expanded beyond the pages of its flagship magazine to generate brand extensions such as the Essence Music Festival, Women Who Are Shaping the World Leadership Summit, Window on Our Women (WOW I, II & III) and Smart Beauty I, II & III consumer insights, the Essence Book Club, Essence.com, and ventures in digital media (mobile, television and VOD) via Essence Studios."
#8) This next one had too many good reads to pick just 1 or 2, so here are simply the search results for “Juneteenth” from Ebony.
Article highlight: 35 out of 50 States recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday. It is not currently recognized as a federal holiday.
Source: Another one with longstanding name recognition. "EBONY is the No. 1 source for an authoritative perspective on the Black community. Now in its 71st year, the monthly magazine reaches nearly 11-million readers featuring the best thinkers, trendsetters, hottest celebrities and next-generation leaders. EBONY ignites conversation, promotes empowerment and celebrates aspiration. Available nationwide on newsstands and the iPad, EBONY is the heart, the soul and the pulse of Black America. It’s more than a magazine, it’s a movement."
NEXT UP: AFRICAN-AMERICAN JOURNALISTS
#1-2) A current article, “The 2020 Democratic primary debate over reparations, explained,” *AND*
A throwback article: “Why celebrating Juneteenth is more important now than ever: It’s time for America to truly grapple with its legacy of slavery.”,
both by P.R. Lockhart of Vox
Article highlight: A powerful quote that stuck with me from Lockhart's writing:
"While Juneteenth has become the most prominent Emancipation Day holiday in the US, it commemorates a smaller moment that remains relatively obscure. It doesn’t mark the signing of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which technically freed slaves... it marks the moment when emancipation finally reached those in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy. In many ways, Juneteenth represents how freedom and justice in the US has always been delayed for black people."
Source: Lockhart says, “I write about race: how it intersects with gender, sexuality, and economic status, how it influences social justice movements, and how communities of color interact with and are affected by policy and politics. Before joining Vox, I covered race and politics for Mother Jones.”
#3-4) “Balancing the Ledger on Juneteenth” By Vann R. Newkirk II
Article highlight: "The debate over reparations highlights the dual purpose of the holiday: celebrating emancipation but also demanding accountability for historical and present wrongs."
“The Case for Reparations” By TA-NEHISI COATES
On the article and the author: A classic of our times! Ta-Nehisi Coates is a prominent writer, a modern day civil rights activist, and as of this very morning, a testifier in a landmark court case on reparations. In his words, "Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole."
Both from The Atlantic.
Note on the source: The Atlantic was publishing pieces by Civil Rights activists as early as 1897.
*BONUS!* - 2 TEACHING RESOURCES FOR JUNETEENTH
#1) “What Is Juneteenth, How Is It Celebrated, and Why Does It Matter? By JAMEELAH NASHEED for Teen Vogue
Article highlight: Written in a way that is easy to read and relatable for older students
Source: It is incredible how Teen Vogue has re-invented their image and become a force for good in the teen world.
#2) Video: The History Of Juneteenth, A Glorious Celebration Of Black Independence Day From Taryn Finley, editor of HuffPost’s Black Voices
Video highlight: Same as #1. Relatable for teen audiences.
Source: HuffPost’s Black Voices was started in 2011 to “focus on current events and cultural trends from a black perspective, covering a broad range of topics — from presidential politics to pop culture, from money and beauty to sports, music, fashion, books, and parenting. Featuring dynamic storytelling, comprehensive curation, investigative reporting, and real-time opinion, BlackVoices will spotlight the best and brightest black thinkers, writers, and cultural game changers with the goal of making issues important to the black community part of the national conversation, because these are issues that matter to everyone.”
Any issues related to race or racial injustice are difficult topics to talk about. People avoid them for fear of stepping in landmines, accidentally offending, or feeling awkward and uncomfortable. At Co-CreatED, we are by no means experts at talking about these things. However, we do believe that avoiding the hard topics only widens the divides between people, and that silence can be mistaken for agreement.
So if anything we write on these areas comes across the wrong way, please talk to us about it. We are coming from a place of wanting equity in the world and trying our best to face the issues head on. We are human, we are imperfect, and we are learning as we go. We invite you to learn with us as we work to make education a more humanizing and equitable place for all students, including shining a light on the more difficult parts of our country's history.
Happy Juneteenth everyone. May we celebrate how far we've come, recognize how far we still have to go, and have the courage to take steps toward progress every chance we get.
Where part I dug into why Co-CreatED disappeared for a year,
part II gets to the root of why Co-CreatED began in the first place and why any of it matters.
(PS... *Bonus!* Stay tuned for Part III-- Get a free tool to help discover your own unique Why, and craft a Why statement for your organization, school, or classroom)
WHY CO-CREATED BEGAN IN THE FIRST PLACE
On June 28 of last year, I wrote:
Hey Facebook. Gotta 'quick' life update for you...
So a lot has changed over the past year. I made two significant career moves— ventured out of my beloved Cloverleaf bubble after nearly 6 years to try to make change in the public education world, then took about 7 months to realize that change would be even harder to make than I had thought.
Cloverleaf showed me what great education looks like, and I wanted to take that learning on a larger scale and share it in the public school world. I thought coaching teachers would be a step closer to the classroom, a step toward making an impact on the teaching/learning side of the school instead of the business side that had been sucking the life out of me. It didn’t quite work out that way.
One thing hasn’t changed and never will— I still want education to be better and to serve more kids well. That’s still my life’s work and mission. It’s just time to approach it from a new angle.
During this year of career transition and soul-searching,
a quote from one of my life heroes hit me right in the gut:
I got suckered into this notion that you have to be a part of an institution in order to change that institution. But I’ve discovered there’s this other option. Creating something new-- that’s the 3rd way. There’s the silence, then there’s the anger (like, ‘I’m taking down this institution!’), then there’s a third way— CREATE A BETTER INVITATION.”
Enter: Co-CreatED. My third way, my hopefully better invitation.
With the help of two amazing colleagues, we’re launching our website! Our humble beginnings so far are a blog and a meetup group. From here, we’ll be growing toward consulting, training, and more as we work to humanize education and create systems of equity for all.
The path to learning is co-created.
Thank you for being part of the journey!
Fast-forward to present day, and another reason got added to the list of why to try a totally different approach-- a year of returning to the classroom in a progressive independent school setting. I was back in touch with the lived experience of a teacher, and I was immersed in the stark differences between public and private school. Teachers deserve better. Students deserve better. Our society deserves better.
So the big WHY…
To make education humanizing and equitable for all students.
That’s it. THAT is the why.
Break that down… what does “humanizing” mean?
A humanizing experience honors one’s humanity: it means being treated like a whole person, as an individual with unique worth, with needs that deserve to be met, with a life of value. When school is a humanizing place, students feel seen and known. Their needs are met, their voices are heard, and they feel they belong. When education is a humanizing experience, students grow in their agency, in the fullness of their own humanity. They self-actualize; they discover their power and passion, then use them to impact the world.
Conversely, a de-humanizing experience denies one their humanity. It is when people are treated as less than human. It is factory-model education, where students are treated as empty vessels to be filled up with an externally-determined dose of knowledge, cranked along the assembly line in 180-day batches of age cohorts, then run through the testing ringer, to be spit out the other end as passing (moving on to the next rung of the 180-day conveyor belt), or failing (re-wound to the start of their same 180-day conveyor belt to try again. Apparently the vessel didn’t quite get filled enough.) Students’ developmental needs are ignored (read: play time ever-shrinking, testing time ever-growing).
Which version sounds more common in today’s education landscape?
And what about the “equitable” part?
Equitable is often confused with equal. Equal is everyone getting the same thing; equitable is everyone getting what they need. Schools have to take into account that not everyone has the same starting line, and not everyone is aiming for the same finish line. However, the starting line shouldn’t determine the finish line. That is to say, where you start in life shouldn’t be a sentence to where you wind up in life.
A first step to understanding equity is accepting that privilege is a thing. Start here.
Next, equity recognizes that differences exist based on many factors-- and even the layering and intersections of those factors-- and that those differences result in inequities, injustices, and imbalances that must be acknowledged, addressed, and corrected. Celebrate diversity; fight inequity.
Finally, answer this “riddle” posed to me by a professor during grad school:
If you could only look at one document to predict a student’s future success in life, which one would be the most indicative?
A) Their IQ test
B) Their GPA/ transcript
C) Their standardized testing score report
Correct answer? None of the above.
That document would be…
Their parents’ tax returns. (See: here, here, and here.)
That’s a daunting reality, and school is only one piece of a highly complex puzzle surrounding the income gap and economic mobility in America. But if we really want to disrupt the deeply-entrenched poverty cycle, equity in educational access would be a pretty decent lever to pull.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Just imagine… let yourself dream wild and big for a moment...
If those “what-ifs” came true, we’d be living in a completely different world. That stuff matters massively.
Education touches every last one of us-- everyone has to go to school. Education is the one and perhaps only key to changing the world.
Fixing school has the power to fix several equity gaps:
I’ve worked in schools serving students from poverty, and schools serving students from affluence; schools serving neurotypical students, and schools serving neuroatypical students; schools serving mostly students of color and schools serving mostly white students.
There’s not a single one of them who wouldn’t benefit from a co-created education.
We’ve got our work cut out for us. Let’s get to work.
(continued in part III)
Now you know our why...
What is YOUR why?
Up next in the three-part series on Getting Back To Why:
Part 3) What's YOUR Why?
Discover your unique Why, and craft a Why statement for your organization, school, or classroom
*Coming Saturday June 22*
Why it took me a year to get this site back on track,
Why Co-Created began in the first place, and
Why it matters
(PS... *Bonus!* : Discover your unique Why, and how to craft a Why statement for your organization, school, or classroom)
A year went by.
The last time I authored a blog: July of last year.
The last time I edited and published a colleague’s blog: August of last year.
Well, a lot of learning, for one thing.
I learned a lot about myself. I learned how to not define myself by my job title. How to respect myself and see my worth whether others do or not. That I am resilient. That the size of my ideas makes them hard to fit inside a classroom. That I crave flexibility in my work.
I learned how to have a boss, and how to work with a team of peers. I learned what strong leadership looks like through both examples and nonexamples. I learned that there is a need in the education world for team dynamics training, team profile building, and generally investing more in the teams of adults who invest so much of themselves into the students they serve.
I learned that while Project-Based Learning (PBL) is engaging and deep, it is not an inherently student-centered approach or philosophy. In fact, it leans heavily in the teacher-centered direction. More on that in a future post.
I learned more about the key differences between private and public schools, which further fueled my fire to make education better and more accessible for more kids.
I re-learned some things too.
I re-entered the classroom after 4 years outside of it, and the impossibility of the job known as “teaching” came sharply back into focus.
(...You want me to work how many hours for how much money?!)
There aren’t enough hours in the day. There is no flexibility, only rigidity. There is a constant tension between reporting past learning and planning future learning, which meant never living in the present moment with students. As I looked around, I saw a million opportunities for improving the job, the field, the experience… and zero time to actually carry out any of those great ideas.
And to top it all off, there is certainly no prestige.
All these factors left me more motivated than ever to try to make a difference for teachers, for students, and for the broader world of education.
WHY A WHOLE YEAR WENT BY
One of the biggest re-learnings of the past year was something I already knew about myself but hadn’t yet accepted: I’m an all-in person. Whatever I do, I do all the way. I dive headfirst into the deep end and pour my whole self into it. I mean, Wholeheartedness is one of my top 4 values in life. So this past year, the classroom became my world. No matter how many promises I made to myself to balance running Co-Created and running a classroom, I wasn’t able to keep them.
I told myself I could learn to be different, to multitask, to spread my interests and passions more widely, especially if the different elements were complementary.
It turns out that’s not a learn-a-new-skill thing, in my case. It’s a fighting-against-my-nature thing.
That was hard since Growth is another of my top values. Why couldn’t I just grow to be different, or better, or more? Surely I am a smart and capable enough person to figure out how to juggle a main hustle and a side hustle. People do it all the time! I mean, look how many teacher-bloggers there are out there. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t swing it? Self-doubt and even self-resentment crept in.
I thought I was broken. I was wrong.
Some people are meant to do multiple things at a time, extending themselves broadly. Others are meant to do one thing at a time, extending themselves deeply. I’m in the one thing at a time camp, and I’m learning to accept that that’s ok. It can even be a good thing. I couldn’t have helped start a school, lead it, and grow it for 6 years without being an all-in person. My all-in-ness was a strength. (Though, to be fair, every strength has a shadow side. With all-in-ness comes a need to consciously seek out life balance and actively work toward moderation-- a life-long work in progress).
After a year of learning these lessons and many many more, I knew it was time to get back on the horse. Learning all these lessons would be worth it if I could share them with others and use them to help make change.
To do that, I had to get back in touch with my WHY.
(continued in part II)
What is YOUR why?
Let's make this a conversation -- I look forward to reading your comments!
Up next in the three-part series on Getting Back To Why:
Part 2: Why Co-Created began in the first place, and Why it matters
*Coming Monday June 17*