The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What, How, and Why

 Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
Please contemplate how you would answer these questions:

WHAT do you do?
HOW do you do what you do?
WHY do you do what you do?

When you are asked about why you choose to work in an after school program, how do you answer? Do you focus on WHAT you do, HOW you do it, or WHY?

Studies show that most people start with the WHAT. But that might not be the right place to start. If you really go deep with people in many diverse lines of work - afterschool among them - they really aren't very clear why their organization exists. Many are really far off the mark. In his leadership book, Start with Why, author Simon Sinek (Penguin Group, 2009) suggests we would better respond to the question about why we choose to work in afterschool by starting with the WHY? Why does your afterschool program exist?

It is particularly important to have contemplated and analyze our responses to these questions before we attempt to build relationships with principals and gain their support. Rehearse your responses. You are well advised to start with the WHY. Principals aren’t so concerned with WHAT you do or HOW you do it. But the WHY you do what you do will catch their attention, especially when the WHY your program exists closely aligns with WHAT they and their school need.

What might those needs be? They will most likely center around more time for kids to learn. Yes, they might think it’s nice that kids are safe and fed and given time to play. But if they can't see how kids will get expanded learning time, they might be less likely to get on board and support your WHY.  Principals know there simply isn't enough time for many kids to learn everything they need to know and be able to do during the school day. They want more time for kids to learn - but they don't want a longer school day.

So, start with WHY. Make sure everyone is clear about WHY your afterschool program exists and can speak the mission with clarity and brevity. A good WHY will influence HOW things are done in the program. WHAT you and others do is clearly driven by a solid understanding of the WHY and HOW questions.

A good WHY is narrowly focused. You can't be everything to everybody. You likely won't be in business long if you don't know WHY you exist. A good WHY may be stated as simply as ‘to teach.”

If your WHY and that of the school's are similar, it becomes an easier task to align the learning day. But if your WHYs are at different ends of a continuum, or if principals and others can’t or won’t buy-in to your unique WHY, you will likely be on a bumpy road working with principals.

Start with WHY.

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