“Don’t Call it a Comeback!”

Hey blog-o-sphere – it has been awhile….

I am sorry for the absence. I have been gathering life experience that has forever changed my path, opinions, personal missions/mantras, and my daily manner of thinking.

Here are 7 things I learned since I last wrote:

  1. Hope – at its core, is the most precious thing one person can give to another
  2. Humor is a sign of resilience
  3. No matter the issue, there is never just one point of view
  4. Life is not fair – not even a little bit.
  5. We are stronger than we are capable of understanding
  6. My story is important and so is yours
  7. The WHY must be your biggest motivation in life

As I sit at #NCTE17 in St. Louis, Missouri, I can’t help but feel energized and happy to be writing professionally again, despite taking a step back from doing so. Because I am a transparent person, this hiatus occurred because my 6 year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer in March of 2016, and despite strength, beauty, and innocence, she passed in March of 2017. I share this not because it is sad… which it is, but I do so because I have struggled to find the time to contribute to this blog because of it.

Like many of my students, I have had to prioritize my emotions, time, and willingness to be public.

I type this now to my professional followers because I believe more than ever, that our students lives and individual experiences matter most and must be the muse for the interactions we get to have each day. We each bring our delicious burdens with us and often times, these burdens are the things that hinder us and prohibit us from contributing to our fullest.

So where I am going with this entry… well, a reoccurring question in my life and thoughts lately has been: why? Many of the whys I have been asking are a bit more spiritual, personal, and existential, the question has led me to a moment of pause, and I find myself asking why with more frequency in my life.

I recently read Simon Sinek’s book Start with the Why and it helped to bring me to an awakening in multiple facets of my life AND THAT is what this entry is about…

Simon calls it the Golden Circle (Why, How, and What):

golden-circle.png

So, when trying to sell, or in my case teach, something to someone, we must ensure our WHY is the core of the sales pitch, not our WHAT. This simple idea has helped me to try to be critical of all that I do in my classroom. I don’t want to waste a moment of my and my students’ time. Now, this idealistic approach is tough to achieve — but the Golden Circle model has helped me see a light at the end of that tunnel.

Since I am a teacher, I focus on a lot of “whats” – for example – close reading/ literary analysis, personal narrative, formative assessments, independent reading, writers workshop, etc. What I have come to realize is that the “whats” that have been the most successful in my classroom are the ones that use the “whys” to get my students to buy in.

To prove this point, let me use the Trumbull High School Poetry Slam as an example. Just so you have a little background, the Annual Poetry Slam is part of the Poetry Elective Curriculum. We call it a Cross Course Interdisciplinary Unit. The students in all the sections of the Poetry Elective work together to create the Slam from the ground to the sky. On the day we tell students they will be empowered and they will steer the direction of the Slam, we have to pitch them the idea. So let us consider two different sales pitches and see which one would get more buy in.

Sales pitch #1 –

“Ok gang – today I am going to challenge you to be in charge of the Annual Poetry Slam. To do so, you will be put into groups of like minded individuals that play to your strengths.”

Not terrible – the WHAT is clear and HOW they will do it is laid out. Now, I realize this example may get buy in when presented like this, but what about starting with the WHY!

Here is the new pitch using the Golden Circle:

“Ok gang – today you are going to get a chance to leave a permanent mark on our school community and help to change the lives of some of your peers. You will be a part of a group that plays to your strengths and work with students/ faculty who are like minded. You will learn skills that go beyond these classroom walls, by hosting, producing, and promoting the Annual Poetry Slam.”

If you notice in the second sales pitch, the WHY is very clear (“to leave a permanent marl on your school community and help to change… lives.”). A student isn’t left to wonder why I think they should be doing this. It is transparent.

So what does this distinction teach me and how does it apply to my day to day thinking?

Well, I value love, life, and time more now than ever before. So, as much as I possibly can, when I am thinking about a WHAT, I do my best to ensure there is a WHY.

In teaching, it has helped me to be sure my students know why I think what we are doing is important and meaningful. This simple formula has helped me diagnosis why lessons have been successful and why some have failed. When I am passionately invested in instruction, I have been unconsciously focused on the WHY.

So go out there – start with the why when you work with your students and when someone tries to get you to buy into a WHAT – be sure they can defend it with a WHY.

Much love all, it is good to be back, and my NCTE17 highlights will follow soon!

Jim

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