Mary Dagani | January 2018

Find Your WHY for the New Year

The New Year is upon us. It’s a time for all things new:  new attitude, new commitments, new ideas in the classroom… We make promises to ourselves in the form of a New Year’s resolutions, some of us even painstakingly writing them out and posting them on the bathroom mirror as a constant reminder. Or better yet, posting them on social media in hopes that our friends and loved ones will hold us accountable for our promises. But how many of these new behaviors stick?  Very few.  We all know this to be true.

Rest assured, this is by no means because we are failures at developing new habits, or failures at keeping our promises to ourselves. Perhaps we are looking at this from the wrong perspective. Maybe we just need to approach them from a different angle. Think of this as a differentiated approach for writing your New Year’s resolutions.

Finding Your Why

In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek explains his theory of the Golden Circle. Although he addresses this concept to business leaders, I don’t see any reason it can’t be applied to our classrooms. You are, after all, a leader who is in the business of educating students. Here is what Sinek teaches us: Imagine 3 concentric circles with the smallest one on the inside being your “why”, the middle circle being your “how”, and the largest outer circle your “what”. Sinek explains in his book that people don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it.

Here is a shortened TED Talk video just in case you are not familiar with the book:

How might we apply this to our lives? When it comes to making resolutions for the new year, listen to your heart and start with your why. In the context of your classroom, ask yourself why you are there? Why do you want to take a new approach to your teaching? Identify what your why is. Once you have clearly identified this purpose, move on to your how. Using the tools you already have: standards, materials, staff members, time limitations, etc., start working on how you intend to accomplish this idea. Finally, all of this planning and preparation will be reflected in what steps you decide to take. And it is at this point in the process where you will gain your students’ trust and buy-in.

In terms of your personal goals, the same steps apply:

  1. Clarify your purpose (why)
  2. Decide on the steps (how)
  3. Commit to actions that reflect your why (what)

Behavior is Biological

A very important point that Sinek makes is that behavior is not connected to psychology, but rather to biology. Looking at the Golden Circle from an overhead perspective, the why & how circles that are closest to the center, are symbolic of the limbic brain: the part of the brain that controls feelings, trust, loyalty, and behavior. The outside circle is representative of the neocortex – the part of the brain that controls language and rational thought. If we start by thinking and making decisions rationally as most people do, the behaviors don’t stick because they aren’t intrinsically supported or connected to why we are doing it.

So, when it comes to making those New Year’s resolutions, take a different perspective and start from the inside out. Start with your WHY. Make your decisions first by listening to what feels right, then move to your how, and finally your actions.

Wishing you the best for 2018!

About the Author

Mary is a STEAM TOSA, Project Lead the Way Launch Lead Teacher, and an Orff Schulwerk music specialist. Her eclectic background, along with her 28 years of elementary classroom teaching, gives her a unique perspective on Arts Integration.