“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”
A recent experience got me thinking about how I might introduce my vision for learning in my classroom to my students and I believe that this idea from Simon Sinek helps immensely. In his TED talk on The Golden Circle (which you can find here), Simon discusses what he believes to be the main reason as to why some companies are astronomically more successful than others. Most companies know WHAT they do. Many will also know HOW they do it. But only a few might work out WHY they do it. Simon suggests that articulating the WHY is crucial. The diagram below gives a good overview of what he means by WHAT, HOW and WHY:
I believe that this idea could be applied to education by asking the question: how we get students to buy into their learning? A crude way of putting it is that at the start of the year we are selling a product to our students, and that product is our classroom. Indeed, they have to consume whether they like it or not, but it would be much better if they are willing participants who would also buy into our vision for learning. So, what was the experience that led me towards this idea?
A Humbling Experience
Having extensively explored self-directed learning, I settled on the idea of creating a classroom where students could learn at their own pace. My thinking was then that I should share this vision with my students so that they would buy into it and understand what I was aiming for. I, therefore, designed a lesson that would help me achieve this. What students essentially received was this:
I left the lesson thinking:
“Great, they all understand that I want to create a personalised classroom where they are able to work at their own pace and are supported by me if needed. They all realise that I’m not just going to leave them to their own devices to work through the curriculum but that through the year I will help them develop the skills and confidence that enables them to take ownership of their learning.”
It took my Head of Faculty asking to see me to share a concern a student had with this approach to make me realise that in all likelihood, this is not what could be taken away from that introductory lesson!
Looking back, it is clear that I had got a couple of things quite wrong:
- I got the Why completely wrong. I missed the point. I explained why we should do self-paced learning, not why I want my classroom to be the way that I want it to be. The difference is subtle but important.
- I introduced self-paced learning as the big idea. I now don’t think it is. I thought if students get that, then my classroom will transform. However, all they might think when you say that is “yikes, this guy is just going to leave me on my own!” Indeed, I don’t think students even need to hear the term. Self-paced learning is just one of the ways that I can achieve my Why.
So with that in mind, I have now set about trying to work out my very own Golden Circle. What is my why? How will I do it? What will I do to get it? After much deliberation, I think I have settled on a good starting point.
The WHY should be a purpose, cause or belief (see the diagram earlier in the post). My WHY is therefore an amalgamation of my own beliefs and those of UWCSEA (where I work and whose mission I believe in deeply).
“I believe that education can be a force to unite people, nations and cultures to build sustainable peace and everything I do in the classroom should help students embrace challenge and take responsibility for shaping a better world. I believe that students learn best when education is personalised and I will do my utmost to create an environment where that is the case.”
The HOW is something that makes an organisation special or different. If my classroom is an organisation, then the HOW would be the skills and qualities that students need in order to take ownership of their learning. For me, UWCSEA sums this up quite nicely in their own skills and qualities:
This and my own thoughts give me my HOW:
“How I do this is by developing the skills and qualities (see UWCSEA skills and qualities above) that learners require in order to take ownership of their learning so that their education becomes a journey of discovery, exploration and creation.
The WHAT is the product or services that an organisation sells. In my classroom, I take this to be my everyday lessons. WHAT do I do in those lessons that help my students to become self-directed learners who have ownership over their learning. Most of these things could occur in any classroom, just as any computer company can make a computer. What makes them special for me and my students is WHY I do them. So my WHAT is massive. There is so much that I will do in my classroom in order to achieve my WHY. The list is long and by no means exhaustive and requires extensive further thinking to determine how I pull everything together in day to day lessons. However, knowing what they are is a great starting point.
My WHAT includes: self-paced learning; genius hour (more info on that here); hyperdocs (see this website); the Launch cycle (check out this page); concept mapping; design challenges; maker projects; portfolios/blogs; mastery learning; mini-lessons; read-alouds; modelling thinking; collaborative work; sharing learning; and much much more.
As of yet, I am still unsure as to how to incorporate and integrate the learning tools from my WHAT into the classroom and use them effectively to engender a deeper understanding and acceptance of self-directed learning from my students. This is an on-going process and I suspect that it will be a gradual process. My hope is that this gradual process will be made easier and more effective if they know my WHY and buy into it.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Here are some questions for you to ponder:
- How might you introduce a “grand” idea of how you would like your students to learn?
- How do you ensure buy-in to your methods, even if they might seem completely alien to some students?
- How do you introduce a complete change in how you teach? Bit by bit? In one go?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!