collaboration · community · reflections · reflective practice · writing workshop

How Do We Help Students Find Their Why?

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The students and I said our goodbyes and shared hugs.  The classroom is cleared, alarm clocks are turned off, professional development days are scheduled, and my reading stack is high.  I am almost ready for summer.  I say almost because before I can embrace the days of summer stretching out in front of me, I have one missing piece.  I want to press pause and reflect so I can make plans for next year.  I want to set my focus for this summer’s learning.  This is my missing piece.

As our year was wrapping up, we began to revisit some of the community building games we had played at the start of the year.  I sat back and watched as the students demonstrated compassion, empathy, and worked collaboratively.  They performed the tasks, asked questions of each other and made plans.  At first, pride filled my heart, but as I continued to watch, I realized the work ethics I was watching at that moment hadn’t been as clear nor intentional throughout the year.  The day’s show of teamwork could have been the culmination of a year’s work, but I knew it was something more.

I pushed my thinking back to the early days of the school year.  How did I set out to construct a community that would work with compassion and empathy?  How did I set out to teach my students to be intentional and responsible for their learning?

Our community was developed through 3 Steps to Building A Learning Community: Vision. Intention. Purpose. and tasks requiring kids to show empathy, compassion, and to work in collaboration to achieve team goals.  The kids learned to support one another and to work together; they were becoming a community of learners.

As the year went on, the evidence of a cohesive community (while still present in most) wasn’t omnipresent.  Some students planned their learning and their intentions were clear and well thought out.  Some student relied on others, or even me, to get started with work.  Some students took over while some sat back and let others do all the work.  Our room wasn’t perfect, but it was a bonded community and students were independent and made choices about how they were learning.

But I want more.

As I watched the kids’ interactions with each other, I reflected on the daily work habits of the students.  I started to wonder if had we taken the time to think about the why?  Did we pause to learn why you might choose to work together or apart?  Did we talk about why it’s important to design your learning?  Did we discuss what it means to make deliberate decisions about learning?  Did we pause to think about how our early (seemingly unconnected) tasks were helping us learn to be a learner?  Did we pause to ask ourselves what being an independent learner would look like and feel like at school, at home, and throughout life?  

Did we stop and talk about the why?

My learners need to know the why.  This summer, my learning will center around how I can teach my students to find their WHY.


10 thoughts on “How Do We Help Students Find Their Why?

  1. Why is extremely important not only in the context as you are wondering about with your students, but also in an instructional sense. My HS junior wanted to know why all year in AP Physics…..he struggled because why wasn’t really taught. The kids who memorized and regurgitated did extremely well. He is a conceptional thinker and needs to know why. As educators, it is extremely important to discuss the “why”. Some kids definitely want to know.


  2. Deb!!! This post has moved me so much. This is truly the missing piece. Why do we read? Why do we write? Why are we kind to each other? Why do we ask questions? I really love the video- the example of the man singing was so powerful!


    1. Kathleen,
      Thank yu for sharing your Aha moment! It is an inspiring thought! I know I always have to know WHY I am doing something. Knowing why helps me focus on the important stuff and let the other stuff go!


  3. Deb, this is great! I love the Simon Sinek Ted Talk referenced in the comments here, but I had never seen this video clip. “Know you ‘why’, and your ‘what’ has more impact.” I think this is so powerful, as we’re able to foster agency in kids when they know why they’re doing what they’re doing. Thank you for this amazing post!


    1. Lanny,
      Thinking about the power of our kids knowing and believing in their why is powerful! As I said below to Mark, I plan to start my year sharing my why with parents. I wonder if or how parent support would change if they knew my deep investment in their kids, my WHY?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Mark,
      Thank you for your reply. I will have to check out this book. The video you shared inspired me to grab my notebook and start fleshing out why I teach. It seems so obvious to most why people choose to be teachers. I think most would be surprised to learn the roots of my why stretch out to the stability and value of our country and it’s people. My students and their families need to know this; they need to know I am deeply invested in education. My students need to know why we push ourselves to be better, why this important to them and to the communities in which they live.
      Thanks for the conversation!


  4. The end of the school year is always full speed ahead towards summer. I agree that continuing the learning with purposeful reflection into our summer months will make the next year even better. And what a powerful video! Thank you so much for sharing that and encouraging us to find the why!


  5. Love the thinking here. I’m wondering about sharing the video with my students as a starting place. Now I’m curious to look for other ideas. You’ve really got me thinking. I hope you continue to share your thinking as well.


  6. Wow! What a fantastic post and an amazing video clip. Both pack a wallop. Thanks for your honest reflections and for much food for thought. I appreciate the reminder to take time and pause to reflect at the end of the year. As I do so this year, I’ll absolutely be giving more consideration to the “why”. Thanks!!!!


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