Transforming Schools Starts with Asking Why?

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Transforming Schools

There are lots of strategies to improve and transform schools, and of course a lot tried and true things to focus on. Yes, school transformation should be built on quality relationships between colleagues and between students. Yes, school transformation is supported by effective meeting protocols, clear outcomes on agendas, and norms for collaboration. Yes, school transformation includes adoption of effective instructional models like UbD and PBL. All of these are effective ways to improve a school. However, I would say that in order to transform a school, there needs to be a focus on the “Why?” Simon Sinek articulates this in his TED talk and explains that by focusing on “Why” we can inspire action.

The “Why” of Your School –

Most schools have an established Mission and Vision, but do they live it? Often, I see it posted on a wall or even in an email signature I receive. It’s important to live the mission and vision. The mission is “why” we exist, whereas the vision is “who will we will become” based on that mission. Missions are powerful and inspiration. If your school doesn’t have a mission, take the time to go through the process of crafting a mission where all stakeholders are involved. If you do have a mission at your school, maybe it’s time to brush away the “cobwebs” and start living it once again. It might need some adjustments if it’s been awhile, so it may be time for a process of revisiting the mission and updating it. Taking the time to establish or reestablish a mission can help inspire next steps are intentional and aligned to a meaningful “Why” that all stakeholders believe it. Transformational missions beget transformational changes in schools.

The “Why” of Your Team –

My team of instructional coaches took explicit time at the beginning of the year to craft our purpose. We wanted to ensure that what did had true, meaningful purpose. It’s easy to start to work, and get into the work of coaching, but its more powerful to do it with a sense of purpose. Why coaching? What do we believe in coaching? We spent time as a team crafting a statement to drive our work. We also revisited this purpose statement each time we met to ground ourselves as a team. This allowed us to craft transformative work with an authentic purpose. As a team, from grade level to department team, take time to craft this purpose. It may take the form of a more formal mission and/or vision statement, but it ground the work you do and inspire you and your team to move forward.

Spending time on “Why?” creates meaningful work. It’s easy to feel rushed and get straight to the perceived work on making changes in a school. In fact, we need to remember that “Why?” is the work. “Why?” allows us to not only be inspired but also ensure the choices we make to transform our schools are powerful and grounded in shared ownership and purpose.


Andrew Miller is the author of the ASCD Arias publication Freedom to Fail: How do I foster risk-taking and innovation in my classroom? He is currently an instructional coach at Shanghai American School and is on the national faculty for the Buck Institute for Education, an organization specializing in 21st century project-based learning. Miller is also an ASCD Faculty member, providing expertise in a variety of professional development areas, and a regular blogger for Edutopia. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.