WHY? matters

In the Spring of 2012 I toured Neighborhood Centers Inc.'s Choices in Education in Houston where I had the honor of meeting some amazing people: teachers, administrators, family development workers, parents, students. We sat down with several of them throughout the tours and asked the same question each time:

“Why does learning matter?”

Everyone sat up straight, looked me in the eye, and shared deeply personal stories about their upbringing. Many dug deep into family tree roots. Others, in particular the teachers, shared stories of amazement and wonder, such as triumph in listening to a child refugee read a book for the first time.

No matter their cultural background or the extent of their professional training or academic credentials, each person knew what meaningful learning looked and felt like. They practically levitated while sharing their story to listening ears, and thereafter didn’t want to leave when our time together was through.

More significantly, when asked to share aspirations for making learning in their schools all the more powerful for the children and families they served, participants began designing solutions—together. What could have easily become a gripe session became a platform for sparking creativity, innovation, and local empowerment.

Why? Because WHY stories matter. And everyone has one—when asked.

I’ve dedicated much of my professional career doing strategy development, helping others to dream big and make things happen. Often clients spend much time and energy articulating WHAT they do and HOW they do it [or could/should do it] well.

An often missing, overlooked conversation is the WHY. And what good is a strategy if it has no clearly articulated purpose or shared value?

When it comes to education, there are many often polarizing arguments around what should be taught in schools and how it should best be taught, evaluated, and measured for accountability. These debates over what and how far outnumber the why, and yet few disagree on why an education matters.

When we examine the why we marry the past to the future, excavating stories and experiences that reveal possibilities for the way forward, and more significantly, why it matters so much, why we must see it through, why the commitment and sacrifice will be worth the dream realized. Where the what and how give us focus for the way forward, the why sparks a movement, without which there is no way forward.

The teachers and administrators I met in Houston may not agree on every what and how for their way forward, but they have the confidence needed to get there, having started with the right question. After all, it’s the questions we ask, not the information we impart, that create knowledge—learning at its finest.

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