Why-How-What Statements

We are just coming back from two weeks off of break! I hope that you all took the time to do what you needed to do whether that was traveling, catching up with friends, or doing whatever you wanted to do at that moment! Over these two weeks, I did a bit of reading and found one particular idea very inspiring – the idea of developing a personal why-how-what statement. The book, Be Excellent on Purpose, by Sanée Bell, talked about having more than a job title and being able to articulate more than what you do in a day through this why-how-what statement…

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Within the first 25 pages of the book, Bell gives the following #LeadForward strategy:

  1. Start within and reflect on why you do what you do
  2. Identify your how
  3. Ensure that your what reflects your why

Bell’s Why-How-What Statement Example: I help students and educators unleash their inner power so that they can create a life where they feel successful, inspired, and fulfilled. I do this by working every day to create an environment of acceptance, respect, and recognition. Being a Teacher Leader is how I live my why daily.                From Be Excellent on Purpose

These ideas gave me a lot to think about as we start a new quarter. We are all educators in one form or another, yet our how and our why vary drastically and that is part of what gives our students the opportunities that they have here at Feaster Charter. For example, if our #FeasterMindlabs classes all had the same why and how statements, students would be missing out on amazing specialties like engineering, dance, art, music, technology, PE and all of the unique learning opportunities that come with those programs. The why and the how is our opportunity to apply the strengths, interests, and values of our students while meeting the needs of each individual.

So, as we start off this new quarter, how powerful would it be to have your own why-how-what statement to reflect on? As you think, consider using the language frame from Bell:

I (why statement). I do this by (how statement). Being a (what statement) is how I live my why daily.

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Second Week – Time to Reflect!

The first week of school has come to an end! Routines and relationships have been and are being built, learned and planned. One of my favorite parts about week two is taking time to reflect on what worked, what did not work, and what changes we can and need to make! The entire class can take time to practice reflection and practice communicating their desire to make goals that will push everyone towards a more successful school year. Of course, this should be done in a respectful way so that the decided upon changes and comments are both possible and sustainable. Notice how I am careful not to put this responsibility solely on the teacher. That is because it is also on the students to take time to reflect and share their own input. By including everyone in the process, relationships are made stronger and routines are more likely to be followed because the responsibility of following through is being held and agreed upon by everyone.

Knowing Your Direction

How powerful would it be if we had a common direction as a class and a school? There is a quote from Simon Sinek that relates to exactly this:

“Directions are instructions given to explain how. Direction is a vision offered to explain why. “

Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek- The Secret Everyone Should Know

As we take time to reflect on how the routines and procedures taught that first week went and how they were perceived by our learners, we should keep in mind that there is a difference between giving directions and having direction.  There is a time and place for both, and our learners could benefit by understanding when each one is appropriate.

For example, when I am introducing a new math concept, I may be giving literal directions that need to followed. When I am requesting students to share their learning, direction is given to guide learners toward a product of their choosing that will showcase their strengths and talents. The first is informative and does not allow for much voice and choice. The second is a vision that can be created and altered to match the interests and values of the student.

Including Everyone

Trust circles are a powerful time to build community! They can also be powerful for influencing our daily routines and lessons because we are hearing the perspectives of the students. Hear them out, but be prepared to discuss and guide everyone towards an realistic and sustainable goal.

Tony Robbins talks about this when he discusses the idea of S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and (in a) time frame) goals in a blog post called How Can I Create a Compelling Future? When we reflect and include everyone, we should also be connecting the changes that we choose to make to a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and (in a) time frame.

When our goals are S.M.A.R.T and they are continuously reflected, they are much more likely to beneficial to our group as a whole.

Daily Reflection

I read this blog post, 4 Reflection Questions for the End of the School Year, at the end of the 2017/2018 school year from George Couros, the Keynote speaker who opened up the CVESD leadership event for the 2018/2019 school year.

” We move forward not by only looking to the future, but learning from the past.”

George Couros

The Principal of Change Blog

Moving forward is an important concept that we should all be working on! The questions that George Couros poses could be as easily applied to daily and weekly reflections as they are to the end of the school year! Why wait until we are about to get a new group of kids to start reflecting and thinking about what we can do to better reach every single learner? How powerful would it be if we used real time reflections and comments to continue our growth and the growth of our learners?

Getting Back to Routines After Break

Having breaks and taking that time to enjoy family and friends and even alone time is fantastic and something that should be taken advantage of by all educators. Making sure that you took time for you is a great way to come back feeling refreshed and inspired to tackle new projects after having reflected on the first part of our year. Whether you do this by vacationing, working out, obsessively checking emails, napping, spending time with family, going out with friends, or binge watching whatever you want, it is important to return feeling like you have gotten the most of what you wanted in your break.

Sometimes, getting back to work can be a challenging transition for surprising reasons. I recall coming back from summer this past July and being so hungry right at 8:30am because I’d just spent the past six weeks eating breakfast at exactly that time. Our bodies and minds both adjust to what we may consider a “regular schedule” and that is thrown off when we return to the routines of our classrooms and school. The transition from vacation to returning to work can be made easier if we do a few things to help prepare ourselves. The list below is in no way complete because each of us will find success in our own routines and strategies for adjusting back to our work schedules!


Be Realistic

One of the worst things about coming back from break for me is usually that I did not accomplish everything that I had hoped when I left campus. I am always so ambitious thinking that I have three weeks off and I can get anything done in that time. This has yet to be my reality; instead, things come up and some projects simply get pushed. Being realistic about what can be done and prioritizing those things that I would be most stressed out about if they were not completed has really helped me be more realistic about what would be accomplished over break.

One thing that Elizabeth Aderholdt introduced me to was a to do list system called Bullet Journal. This system has helped me prioritize my projects and create task lists that guide my day, week, and month. I set realistic goals for myself and make sure that I prioritize my time so that those goals are accomplished.

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Plan Out Your Prep Day – Add Time for Reflection

Not having students on the Monday we return is a great way to make sure that we are even more prepared for them mentally, emotionally, and physically.  We can know exactly what we are going to teach, how we are going to teach it and have everything prepped – this is the mental and physical preparation; however, we should also be emotionally prepared for them to return. We can prepare emotionally by taking time to reflect on what our most successful moments were from the first two quarters. By reflecting on this, we can recreate those instances of greatest successful – both for ourselves and for our learners.

Know how you left your classroom so that you are more prepared to plan this out. What needs to be organized, what needs to prepared, what do you need to do to make this week and even quarter go as smooth as possible? Plan out these tasks…I have found it helpful to even think about how much time each task will take so that I can keep myself on track. This prep day can go by so quickly and having a plan for it can make it even more effective.

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Be Ready to Review Routines

I have come to need that Monday prep day! I find myself having to recall that our students did not get that day to get back into the routines of our classroom. This is not saying that we should give them a day to adjust, but we do need to prepare to review the routines we spent so much time on that first quarter. They will forget things – they have not had to ask to use the bathroom for weeks, they have not had to wait with their hands raised for weeks, they have not done reading rotations or small group for what will seem like forever to them. Explaining your expectations and holding them accountable by using positive reinforcement will all be beneficial in getting them back into the routines of your academic setting.

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Plan “White Space” in Your Day

I was reading various blogs about returning from breaks and I came across Miss Decarbo’s blog that suggested including “white space” in your day. This is the time that can be used to make up for those moments when our learners are simply trying to adjust back to the routines and schedule of class. In her blog post, she explains the importance of this for our students and discusses the fact that they will be “sluggish” throughout the day. While it is always important to have engaging and academic tasks planned and prepped, it is also crucial to recall that our students are getting back into this routine just like we are. You should also plan some “white space” for yourself to make sure that you are at your best and providing every opportunity possible to your students.

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Make Sure You’ve Made the Most out of Your Break

For me this means that I’ve done everything on my self care list:

  • Spend time outside
  • Watch a few sunsets
  • Do brunch with friends
  • Clean and organize everything at home
  • Enjoy lazy days at home
  • At least attempt to ignore emails for a day/evening (a struggle for me)
  • Complete the most crucial things on my task list
  • Spend quality time with loved ones

Before we return, I encourage you all to think about what is on your self care list. Spend a few moments thinking about this and making sure that you have checked off everything that is most important to you. This will help us all return ready for the learners on our campus.

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I hope that everyone has a successful first day back after having enjoyed their vacation and gotten the most out of it. I definitely encourage you to share with each other what you are doing to transition back into the routines of school and work!


Further Reading on this Topic:

Miss DeCarbo Blog

Forbes 5 Tips for Getting Back to Work After Vacation

5 Tips for Teachers to Take Back Holiday Breaks 

Forever Beginning

The Reflective Teacher