Selling my classroom

“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:

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 16.45.29.png
The Golden Circle by Simon Sinek (Start with 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:

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 16.23.55.png

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

What next?

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!

5 thoughts on “Selling my classroom

  1. I’m a student in your class and thought you might want some feedback directly from it. The problem I’ve had with your implementation of self-direct learning is not that it leaves us lost it’s more that it leaves us confused as to what we need to learn. When you tried it with my class at the end of it I just felt confused about what I needed to learn. I think a good solution would be to implement exit quizzes that should be done at the end of a self-directed class to see how successful we were at it and what fields we were missing as the current traffic light system is to wish-washy.

    In your post, you also talk about “concept mapping; design challenges; maker projects; portfolios/blogs; mastery learning; mini-lessons; read-aloud; modelling thinking; collaborative work; sharing learning” which I feel is missing the point. Forcing us to do these tasks don’t make us more independent by themselves rather allowing us to be more incident is what will cause some of us to look into doing these activities

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi! Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post and also reply. I’m after all the feedback I can get so I really appreciate it, especially from a student. I have implemented self-directed learning slightly differently at IB and IGCSE. It is therefore slightly harder for me to respond if I don’t know whether this was IB or IGCSE. If you feel comfortable in sharing which class, that would be great but I also understand if you can’t. In lieu of that, I will try to respond to your points as much as I can:

    1)”it leaves us confused as to what we need to learn.”
    This is a fair point and depends on what you define as “need to learn”. There is, of course, a syllabus that we must follow and in order to pass exams, we need to cover those points. I, therefore try to put learning objectives that cover those syllabus points whenever we engage in self-directed learning. For IB, they were literally the syllabus points. At IGCSE I have tried to make them slightly more open-ended but nether the less, they still match the syllabus points. Perhaps using the syllabus points exactly would be more helpful? So there is that part of what we “need to learn” if we are just talking about passing exams. However, there is then also other stuff that we don’t need to learn for exams, but might interest us or excite us. I can’t really define that for you but I can give you experiences that might help you form those separate ideas.

    2)” I think a good solution would be to implement exit quizzes that should be done at the end of a self-directed class to see how successful we were at it and what fields we were missing as the current traffic light system is to wish-washy.”

    I think you are certainly right here. At IB, I have quizzes for every few syllabus statements. Once the students have covered those syllabus statements, they can take the quiz, mark it and use it to traffic light their syllabus statements. At IGCSE, this is something that I will be looking to implement. This, I think, also helps with what you were talking about in point 1). Then by completing the quiz, you can ascertain what you need to know for IGCSE.

    3)”Forcing us to do these tasks don’t make us more independent by themselves rather allowing us to be more incident is what will cause some of us to look into doing these activities”

    I think where you wrote ‘incident’ you meant to write ‘independent’. I will answer on this basis, so if this is not the case, please do let me know. Now, this is a tricky one and I think you make a fair point. My reasons for making you do these tasks is to introduce you to them so that you can use them in the future if you like them. My thinking is not to force you to do them for the sake of it. I will try to expose you to enough techniques and skills so that you can pick and choose which ones work best for you. I can’t, I think, at the beginning of looking in to SDL just say, “here are some tools, off you go”. For some students, this might be great, for others it might not. So there is a balance to be struck. My hope is that my scaffolding these experiences, they will allow the most independent students to go off on tangents and move through concepts they understand quickly. And by having less of me stood at the board, I can move around the classroom more and speak to more students. I’m also looking to offer choice. Mini-lessons are an example of this choice. Gradually, as we build up a class list of terminology and tools/skills, more independent students can choose which tools they prefer whilst other students can still receive support from myself.

    I hope that helps clarify some things. With any luck, it has also stimulated even more thoughts and questions from you! If so, please do reply again and I’ll do my best to answer/clarify/discuss.

    I am new to implementing this in the classroom, so your feedback is really appreciated. Please do keep up the dialogue!


  3. This is a wonderful reflection of your personal growth in terms of exploring the “WHY”. It’s not easy to make this fluid and requires practice and discipline to build a foundation that explores the real motivations of progress.

    I ensure buy-ins by displaying examples of this working in the real world. Finding projects that have improved the world are everywhere. By examining these and asking time and time again.. why?… it becomes part of our practice and student practice.

    Thank you for taking the time to be vulnerable and exploring your own journey in making this happen. Mastery is never achieved but always strived for.


  4. This is a very open and honest post, Louie. What transcends the message is that you want the best for your students and are constantly looking for ways to do this. I think that with all these strategies, it’s a case of trial and error, but eventually finding what instinctively feels right or if that’s too wishy-washy, just getting some honest feedback.

    In my first year at UWCSEA, I kept changing strategies, but I eventually learned to stick to a few and see if they worked. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. Those that didn’t were usually because I was focusing on entertainment rather than learning – I had forgotten the ‘why’ as you mentioned.

    We tend to use conceptual activities to introduce ‘grand ideas’ in BusEcons. The strategy might be a game with multiple classes, but it’s the conceptual focus that is so powerful, that we can return to again and again throughout the topic. Some students ‘buy-in’ more than others depending on the topic, the time of the day or whether they are more or less introverted/extroverted. You might not reach everyone in the same way in every lesson, but on the whole, I think we do. Personally, I have learned to be a lot more forgiving of myself and have given up the need for perfection. Nevertheless, I hope I have created an environment where students feel safe and openly discuss or share with me where changes need to be made.

    To answer your question about change, I have found a ‘bit by bit’ strategy better than the all-in-one-go as it’s all a bit too much for me and the students.

    Well done!



  5. Thanks, Louie! I found your post inviting and honest. Loved that.

    How might you introduce a “grand” idea of how you would like your students to learn?
    I think that more than introducing it, I would do it. Some things you don’t have to talk about. Modelling them might be better, then ask them what they think, how they feel after, this might give you an idea of what things to change and what things to keep.

    How do you ensure buy-in to your methods, even if they might seem completely alien to some students?

    They have to try it. If you just present the idea there are always going to be the ones that are going to be scared, resistant to change or just apathetic. But if they try and they like then it happens automatically. They have to trust you and see you feeling confident about it. You transmit that when you deliver the method. Interestingly Tricia shared this with me today: I think it could also apply to your situation.

    How do you introduce a complete change in how you teach? Bit by bit? In one go?

    I am more of a one go kind of person! But I also think that stopping and checking, getting feedback, reflecting, and willingness to accept that something is not working is more important than the how you introduce it.

    Keep us posted on how it goes!!!!!!!


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