Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Asking Why?

photo credit: <a href="">Russ Allison Loar</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Kids are amazing.  So inquisitive and creative. I am intrigued by how they develop their thinking, constantly asking why. With three young children, this is often a question I am asked daily.  Why? And when I give an answer, I am asked another why.  While after 3 or 4 why questions, the dialogue can seem annoying, the inquisitive child just wants to know the answers for everything around him. He is driven for a higher understanding.  He simply wants to know why. This is a lesson for all of us.

I have recently been reading two great books by Simon Sinek, Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last. In Start with Why, numerous examples of individuals and companies are explained in their great understanding and belief in why they establish and market the products they do. For instance, Sinek gives the example of the Wright brothers and their first flight. While not funded like others, their ability to inspire their team behind the why of flying exceeded other teams trying to take flight. They started with why, then build the what and how around this belief. It is the belief and philosophy that is “sold”, not just the product. Sinek explains the driving force in starting with why, before getting to the what and how.

As an educator, administrator, and learner, I tend to look for information and for answers, but I truly wonder in the past how often I asked why. In all the tasks of the day, I look for what and how. How many times have I just followed the path of information, read the article or blog post and just kept clicking on the next link, or simply grabbed a hold of cool tools because others tried it without asking why?  What information do I seek?  Why do I seek it?  What is the purpose, the vision, and the drive behind the learning?  

Knowing WHY defines the vision we seek.

As adults, we tend to discourage why. I know I don't like to be questioned!  However, instead of becoming defensive, we need to embrace why. A staff member may ask about a procedure or address a particular instructional technique.  She may ask why. A parent may ask about a particular score or grade his child received.  He may ask why.  A student may ask about using her smartphone in class for an assignment.  She may ask why.  We need to embrace the question why, because it is an important question to ask and answer.  We need to be driven by why because it will clarify our vision for what we want our schools to be in the future. Sinek states, “Starting with WHY is what inspires people to act.”

We need to build classroom communities where questioning why is valued and embraced.  The greatest minds of our race have asked questions, have inquired the why.  We know and educational research states questioning is an important skill for our students to acquire.  We know that critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and inquiry are important skills to embrace in our classrooms.  However, as children get older, they ask less of why and more of what do I need to do to get the A.  

As educators, we need to ask why as well.  Often times, this is frowned upon, however, we need to know WHY we are doing something in order to effectively communicate it to others.  It seems crazy to tell my colleagues and staff that they need to embrace technology in the classroom if I cannot explain WHY it is essential.  How can we effectively communicate our vision if we cannot communicate the why behind it?

In all we do, we need to ask why.  Why should we use social media in education?  Why is technology important to use in schools?  Why should we teach our children digital skills?  Why are the standards important to teach? Why do we use the traditional school year schedule? Why are grade levels determined by age? Why do schools exist?


The answer should not be because that is they way it has always been done.
The answer should not be because that is the current trend.
The answer should not be because we should change.

The answers should be grounded in kids and their needs.
The answers should be based on best practices and current educational research.
The answers to why need to be determined by our vision for our schools and their future.


Our kids depend on our answers to why. Our kids are looking to us for guidance, for comfort, for development of skills, for everything.  They DESERVE good answers to why. They deserve the right to collaborate and communicate with one another to be successful citizens.  They deserve celebrations to show off THEIR answers to why.

We NEED to ask the hard why questions so we can build a better future for our kids. We need to be able to answer those questions thoughtfully and with purpose, driving our relationships and our vision for our schools.  We need to drive our reading, our learning, our reflections with why. To be truly visionary, we must be inquisitive. We must ask why and then answer it.

It is not just start with why. Why should be the question in all we do.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

All You Need is a Little Paint!

I love to paint.  Not canvas - I am not an artist.  I paint rooms. This is what I call "my summer therapy".  During the month of July, I find projects throughout the house.  Many times, those projects are centered around organization - organizing a closet, a bookcase, my kitchen cabinets, maybe rearranging furniture.  But I always find a room to paint.  This summer, I found six rooms to paint.  Not many may find this exciting, but I do love to paint a room. Painting relaxes me, gives me time to think, or not think at all.  It is a time that is my own to reflect.  When I paint a room, I go "all-out" with bold colors and different colors in the same room.

With a can of paint, a paintbrush, and a little elbow grease, I watch a room transform before my eyes.  It is the same room.  Always the same furniture going back into it.  Maybe a few new accessories and curtains, but it is the same room, just different.  Bolder. A change of personality. A twist on the same room.

So, as I was prepping my next room to paint, these thoughts hit me. Painting a room and the educational landscape today are so much alike.  We are working to "transform" education, one "room" at a time. We are creating learning opportunities for our kids to prepare them for a world in which we aren't sure what it will look like in 20 years. We are integrating skills that go well-beyond content regurgitation.  We are integrating maker spaces so that our children can create.  Our schools are changing.

Much of what I read in blog posts and in recent publications urges educators to take risks and make changes in their instruction to meet the new demands of standards and integration of technology and 21st century skills.  To many educators, it can be quite overwhelming.  So, let's transform our teaching "one room at a time".

This next school year, I challenge educators to take a look at what they are doing now, and add a little color.  A new twist.  A different way.  Rearrange a bit. Transforming and changing doesn't mean doing everything differently.  Start with one lesson, one unit. Take that lesson or unit, and integrate something new into it that will not only challenge our children to question and take risks, but will encourage creativity and collaboration.  Start with "one room" and add a little "color".  Maybe that "color" didn't quite fit.  So, go to the paint store, and find a different shade.  After one room is done, move on to the next.  Challenge yourself to take on a different bold color, or maybe mix two colors in the same room.  Then, take a step back and watch your classroom transform.  Watch as the students are independent, thinkers, creators, collaborators, problem-solvers.  Watch how that ONE color took the same lesson, but added a new dimension to the learning. Isn't it amazing how a little paint can transform a room!