Helping Students Find Their “Why”

It all starts with defining your “why.” Then, you can help students find theirs.

(Day 17 of my 30-Day Writing Challenge)

First, It Was a Famous Book for Leaders

Start with Why, by Simon Sinek, first appeared in 2011. In 2009, he gave a TED Talk called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” and in that talk, he introduced the concept of starting any initiative with why it is important, instead of articulating what it was or how it was accomplished. I shared the talk with my entire company in my weekly newsletter.

Sinek told his audience that human beings are most intrigued by why a product or service is offered, by its grand purpose. Once business leaders know the reason (the “why”), they can share that with employees and the public.

Apple, for example, started with a “why,” according to Sinek:

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one? (See the video around the 3:52 mark.)

The goal, he says, is not to attract customers who want to buy what you have; in the long run, it’s to attract customers who “believe what you believe.” (See the video around the 4:28 mark.)

Then, the Concept Seeped into the Human Condition

Its implications for business and success is not the entire reason I shared the TED Talk with the entire company. Instead, I felt the whole concept could apply to life in general. I was not alone.

The notion of starting with “why” transcended business leadership and success quite rapidly. That makes sense. It’s a profound idea, one framed as a question at least once in a lifetime, usually in a time of crisis.

Why am I here?

Why not introduce that exploration before there is a crisis?

I discovered my “why” while in the middle of a crisis. Here it is.

My Why: I do what I do because I want to help people attain levels of competency, proficiency, knowledge, and skills that go beyond anything they might have imagined doing on their own.

I had realized the only way to fulfill my purpose was to teach full-time. Being a trainer in corporate America was not enough. Here I am, living my dream, in the middle of a pandemic.

Now, It’s Time to Infuse This Concept into the Curriculum

I taught a unit called “How Will You Change the World?” for the first time last year. Honestly, the idea came to me while I was gulping my first cup of coffee a few mornings before. I wanted to end the year with empowerment, with something intriguing.

This year, I know I need to add more activities focused on self-discovery before I can dive into “How Will You Change the World?” Riffing off an idea I came up with in an article about formative assessment, I will use the essay writing assignments for two purposes: give students ample practice to write over an extended period, with multiple revisions, and in a low-risk space; and give them time to discover their “why.”

We will investigate texts of self-discovery and growth to prepare for writing. We will infer the character’s “why.” We will use the key questions to make those inferences. Then, after some study of the human condition, we will see our role in human society more clearly. We will write about that journey toward increased self-awareness.

Yes, that sounds good. I’m only on my fourth cup of coffee today. 😄

I Would Love to Read Your Thoughts

Please leave a comment or question on this post if you would like. Thank you for letting me be part of the conversation, and for reading my seventeen post in my 30-Day Writing Challenge.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

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