Saturday, December 30, 2017

PURPOSE: You Will NEVER Reach “Peak Teaching Performance” Until You Have Firmly Grasped Your “WHY!”

Note - Today is Day 5 of Kwanzaa & I'm examining how each principle correlates with CLASSROOM TEACHER SUCCESS. Today's principle is Purpose (NIA in the East African language, Kiswahili). Take a read & feel free to comment.

"Purpose" (Nia) is my absolute favorite principle out of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. For anyone who knows of my work, you already know this….you know that at the heart of everything I present is “purpose” and “attitude.” For the past 48 hours, I was trying to come up with a good title for this blog post. I couldn’t come up with anything that I liked until I was driving with my wife in the car last night and it hit me! I said to my wife, “write this down before I lose it…You will NEVER reach peak teaching performance until you have firmly grasped your WHY!” Then I said, “BAM…That’s It! That will be my title for Nia!”

Now I know that this title is a rather bold assertion…I get it…it might even turn some folks off, but I stand behind it! Hey teacher out there reading this blog post, you will NEVER reach peak teaching performance until you have firmly grasped your WHY! What am I saying? It is a staple in my workshops with teachers to ask them the question, “WHY do you teach?” Typical responses include, “To make a difference in the lives of my students,” “To make a positive impact on the lives of my students,” “To give my students hope,” “To help my children to learn,” “To ensure that my students have opportunities as adults.” “To prepare my students for the real world.” I love these responses…I have no criticism of any of them, but I do question whether they are addressing the teachers’ “WHY.” For example, when a teacher states, “I teach to make a difference in the lives of my students,” my response is “Why does this matter?” In other words, I am challenging the teacher to dig deeper. The teacher’s response to my query is probably the road to his / her “why.”

Your “why” is your purpose. It is your reason for being…in this case, your reason for being in the classroom. It is very specific. It is very narrow. It is very focused. Once I explain it that way to my audiences, I give them time to reflect and to interact with one another. Resultantly, it is typical that their responses change to something much more focused. By the same token, it is also typical that many of the same teachers that responded initially no longer have a response. The reason is because what they thought was their purpose was actually only a strong desire...but it wasn’t their “why.” In searching for one’s “why,” sometimes you have to take out a shovel and dig deeper to find it. Until we do so, we are being driven by surface level desires. It is not uncommon for a teacher to say to me at this juncture of a presentation that, “I don’t think I know my WHY.

When I became a teacher in 1988, I was very clear on my “why.” Having been born an African American male and raised in an urban African American community in New Jersey, I knew first hand the challenges of this reality. I lived it. So as I walked through that front door at PS 221 in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, NY for the first time, I had a firm grasp of my “why” from the outset which was to build men out of my boys. This did not imply that my girls were of less importance…nor did it imply that my curriculum and my other roles and responsibilities were of less significance, but because of the national crisis that we currently face with so many African American boys academically, I felt a need to zero in on them. They were why I woke up in the morning. They were my purpose…they were my “why.” Building these boys into positive, upstanding young men was what drove me daily. It was my passion…it was my purpose. This continued through my principalship and beyond. It woke me and it drove me. Hey teacher out there, what is your “why?” Why do you do this work? What keeps you up at night related to your work? What preoccupies your thinking? Whatever your answer is, it is probably your “why.”

The title of this blog post is You Will NEVER Reach Peak Teaching Performance Until You Have Firmly Grasped Your “WHY!” As I stated above, this title is a rather bold assertion because it essentially says that reaching peak teaching performance is contingent upon you identifying, walking in and firmly grasping your purpose. I am proclaiming boldly here that you MUST find your teaching purpose, and your teaching purpose must be much narrower than “making a difference and an impact.” Certainly, you will want to do both, but as they relate to your purpose, they are too broad. I put them both in the category of “noble desires.” Your purpose…your “why” is narrow, specific and to the point. It tugs away at you. It keeps you up at night. It occupies your thoughts. It drives what you say and what you do. It keeps you focused on the task at hand while simultaneously driving away and blocking out the distractions.

Think about it – there are people who have made extraordinary accomplishments in all walks of life. Some of these people are very well known and others are only known within their circles but have done extraordinary work nevertheless…they’re doing big things like teaching children to think critically and analytically for example. They are performing at peak levels. We can assume here that they are performing at peak levels in large part because within their work, they have identified their purpose for the work which drives them day in and day out. As you begin to mentally prepare for the resumption of school in January, be sure to have either identified your purpose for your work or start the process of identifying it so that you can ensure that you are reaching peak teaching performance daily which translates into your students achieving at the highest possible levels of accomplishment.


  1. Thank you for sharing! Understanding the "why" helps to build the "how" as well as our focus on the "who". Again, thank you!

  2. Purpose poses a serious delinma for some educators. I maintain that a purpose without an action is not a purpose at all. For instance my purpose for being an educator is to assist students and teachers to believe in their ability to maximize their potential for success, therefore, I'm going to create an environment and programs that supports these goals. Notice how I correlated a purpose state ment with an action statement. This gives us evidence and keeps us accountable and responsible. Purpose statements correlated with action statements is where we need to go. This is a very difficult process and won't be achieve in one staff meeting or even in a 5 year period it requires on going reflection and evaluation. Having a purpose requires you to act. It's one thing to say another to do.

    1. Excellent stuff! There's got to be an action to support the purpose. #ActionStatement


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