One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a leader is to start with WHY. As an assistant principal, many of these learning experiences were results of failed opportunities. As I reflected on conversations that turned into complaint forums, emails that sent the wrong message, and meetings that didn’t quite deliver the passion and agency as I’d hoped, my principal’s response during our debrief was always, “BIG PICTURE FIRST!” In the daily grind of teaching and leading, it’s easy to forget the motivation for why we do what we do. It’s easy to fall into a trap of excuses and blame. As a leader, your work is to continuously remind yourself and others about why you're doing what you're doing. That is what will help you and others push forward, especially during challenging times.
In "Start with Why," Simon Sinek asserts that starting with why is grounded in the functions of the brain and gives the following example: "...If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this: "We make great computers. They're beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?" "Meh." That's how most of us communicate. That's how most marketing and sales are done, that's how we communicate interpersonally. We say what we do, we say how we're difference or better and we expect some sort of a behavior, a purchase, a vote, something like that. Here's our new law firm: We have the best lawyers with the biggest clients, we always perform for our clients. Here's our new car: It gets great gas mileage, it has leather seats. Buy our car. But it's uninspiring. Here's how Apple actually communicates. "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?" Totally different, right? You're ready to buy a computer from me. I just reserved the order of the information. What it proves to us is that people don't buy what you do; people buy why you do it."
So how do we communicate the why in situations that are potentially stress inducing and add to the already heavy plate? How does this translate to site-based leadership? Here are a few examples of starting with why.
Instead of... "State testing is coming soon. Make sure to cover up your walls, separate seats, and follow the testing protocols." Say... "Our students have grown so much this year. It's important to celebrate their accomplishments by giving them opportunities to apply and showcase their learning. One of these opportunities is coming soon, the state test. During the test, we need to set the most optimal conditions so that our students can truly show what they've learned and perform at their personal best. Make sure to..."
Instead of... "As we prepare for the Great Shakeout Earthquake Drill, be sure to have your emergency kits by the door and communicate expectations to your students." Say... "Student and staff safety is a top priority and require a team effort. In the case of an emergency, teachers and students need to know exactly what to do and where to go to be safe. The Great Shakeout helps us practice and familiarize ourselves with the protocols and procedures so that if an emergency were to happen, we are able to stay calm and take appropriate action."
Instead of... "We are applying for digital citizenship certification. Please be sure to teach lessons on digital citizenship this month." Say... "Students nowadays are spending hours online daily. With greater access to technology, students have more opportunities to either impact the digital world in a positive or negative way. We must empower our students to maximize the use of technology to make a positive contribution to their world. One of the ways we can do this is to teach students to be respectful and responsible digital citizens. The digital citizenship lessons will ensure..."