In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek, a British-American author, points out that everyone in an organisation knows WHAT it is that they do, some know HOW they do it, but very few know WHY they do what they do. Similarly, imagine for a moment that you are visiting a local school. What might you see there that addresses the Why behind learning in, for example, a year-six class on fractions? From my experience, if you ask children why they are learning fractions, their answer would be, “Because it is in the year-six math book,” or “Because it will be on the achievement test,” or “Because our teachers said it is very important.” All of those reasons have some validity, but they are not the real WHY for our children.
The single most important lesson for us as parents and teachers is to engage children in an experience that will lead them to value and pursue the learning we initiate. We must encourage them to see how the theoretical content they learn at home and at school will impact their lives. Learning is not rote; it is how we make meaning. It is directly related to how we feel about what we learn. The same is true of leading others in business. When we talk about successful learning, we are talking about feeling and answering the Why? questions: “Why do I need to know this?”, “Why is this material valuable in my life?”.
So, instead of starting with the What? questions in both business and learning, what if we first invited our children to: (1) engage in dialogue with NO telling, or (2) listen and share similar experiences with a sense of “having been there, too”, or (3) experience the discrepancies that the learning will unravel, e.g. “What if circles did not exist on our planet? How would the world look?”, or (4) experience simulations that will lead them to value and pursue further learning.
“When the ‘Why’ is absent, imbalance is produced and manipulations thrive,” says Simon Sinek. Most of the answers we get today in schools when we ask about the WHY prove this. So, what if we all contributed to a new way of teaching? What if the next time someone asks a child “Why do you learn fractions?” she or he replied, “Fractions are important because they tell me what portion of a whole I need, have or want.” or “Fractions are very useful in baking to tell me how much of an ingredient to use.” or “Fractions are useful in telling the time as each minute is a fraction of the hour.”
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