Byron's Babbles

Less “Why” and More “How To”

IMG_6531Recently, I was sitting in on some teacher professional development sessions and I looked over at a teacher’s notes and saw that he had written, “I need less ‘why’, and more ‘how to”. This really struck me because I had just interrupted an earlier session to see how many really thought they would be able to jump right in and do the task being trained on – some thought they could, but many wanted to try it and then have someone ready to help them. Having spent most of my career in the classroom I knew it was thing to have been shown how to do something, and then actually doing it when there were 30+ young scholars staring you in the face.

After seeing this note, I began to think about whether we had become so enamored with always explaining the “why” that we were missing the mark on the “how”. Clearly in these trainings we were for at least one participant. This struck home with me because I believe in my own world I get a lot of “why”, and then there are very few who really understand the “how”. As you will find later in this post, we need both.

I told the teacher after the session that I had seen his note and was interested. He told me it was not being critical, but he needed more time on how to do some of the tasks than so much time on why. I told him this made total sense. Really, the why should be about the vision in a quick statement of the importance and not a dissertation, or what turns into a chance for the presenter to pontificate and gain self gratification. Many times, I have found, this is because the person presenting does not understand how to do the task very well themselves.

The more I thought about this, I realized we have become very “into” talking about the “why” of everything. I get it! I really do, but because of all the writing about the “why” I believe we are forgetting to develop the “how” to the same extent. Even though the title of Simon Sinek’s great book Start With Why focuses on the “why,” he still told us that there must be those doing the “how.” For example, without Roy Disney, Walt Disney’s vision would never have been carried out. Thinking about all this brought to mind one of my favorite parts of L. David Marquet’s great book Turn The Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders. Marquet explained to us in the book that when practicing intent-based leadership, where everyone is a leader, we must provide the needed technical training or it will be chaos. Genius, right! I might know “why” I need to put a fire out on a submarine, but if I don’t know “how” it becomes a bigger problem. So I might add to Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, “Finish With How”.

Think about it from a school perspective; if I spend an hour telling you how important taking accurate attendance is each period for high school students and why each period will be analyzed and rolled into the daily attendance, but then don’t spend the majority of the time making sure you understand the management program (technology) and how to use it, I have failed you. Also, we would need to make sure you understand the best practices of taking proper attendance at the beginning of the period and then updating for individual circumstances that happen during the period. I believe you get the idea, but it has become to easy and “cool” to just spend time on the “why” because that is the latest buzz phrase – “gotta tell them the why.” I’m cool with that, but make sure I understand “how to” too!

How about you? Do you need less “why”, and more “how to”?

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Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, & Unknown Unknowns

Today during the last day of our Teacher Academy I realized that our first year teachers and those teachers who were with us for the first time still had a few gaps of things they needed and wanted to know for the first day of school. It is very tough to give beginning teachers everything they need to know, and many times in doing so it is like making them drink from the proverbial water hose. So, I pulled an audible and planned a “lunch and learn” and framed it as giving them a chance to learn about what they knew they didn’t know. It was awesome and a huge success. We had pizza and salad and had four of our great teacher leaders and school leaders sit and have a conversation just answering their questions (they did a great job, by the way). This group of new teachers had great questions and were much more at ease going into the weekend before the start of school. They were so appreciative of having the opportunity to have a discussion in a non-threatening environment and be able to ask anything. I was quickly reminded of how many times we awesome people know things that in reality they would have no way of knowing.

Many times we don’t know what we don’t know; we know more than we quite know we know; or know what we don’t know. Sometimes we need to pose the question: “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?” What I learned today was that we need to take time to listen to those we serve and find out what they know they don’t know. This seems like such a novel idea, but I’m not sure we do a very good job of this at times.

“As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” ~ Donald Rumsfeld – February 12, 2002, Department Of Defense news briefing

Maybe another great question we should ask as leaders is, “What do you feel unknowledgeable about?” You can’t know what you don’t know. You can’t know about things you have yet to discover. You can’t know what the future holds, though you might conjecture on it. But, many times we do know what we don’t know. This is simple ignorance: just not knowing and knowing you don’t know.

Contrast simple ignorance with compound ignorance: thinking you know but knowing so little you can’t recognize your own ignorance. Today really made me think about the fact that we need to embrace simple ignorance and allow those we serve to express what they know they don’t know. Simple ignorance is the most honest and least harmful. It can be beneficial in avoiding stupid mistakes as well as prompting one to learn more.

Are you encouraging others to explore the things they know they don’t know? Are you helping them learn the things they know they don’t know?