“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it”. On a certain Sunday evening, this provocative statement swirled tumultuously in my head as I observed author Simon Sinek (2009) deliver the inspiring speech – How Great Leaders Inspire Action – at a TED conference. To illustrate this notion, Sinek distinguished three key notions any successful entity has fully addressed – what, how, and why. In the marketing perspective, Sinek discovered a trend among successful individuals or organizations. While various companies exist within a certain market to sell the same product, there is always one exceptional company that leads the market. As it turns out, all these leaders share one quality in common – a conscious awareness and expression of ‘why’. In the words of Sinek, these entities perfectly respond to the question, “Why? Why should anyone care?” I believe this statement applies equally to educators. In this statement of teaching philosophy, I will adapt Sinek’s model, applying it under an educational perspective. Not only will I address what I do in education and how I do it, I will explicitly address my reasons and belief for doing so, offering theoretical and practical insight as to why people should care about what I do.
Why do I choose to educate? Why should anyone care that I teach? Foremost, it is important to touch on education in itself – its nature and relevance within society. It is my personal conception that education is the transferring of knowledge and ideas to provide children a sense of self-sufficiency and capabilities as a member of a democratic society. However, in order for one to be self-capable in a democracy, a fundamental skill is required – critical, autonomous thinking. With this skill, students not only gain the capacity to critically evaluate and analyze reality as it is presented to them, students are able to internalize external information, expressing ownership of their own knowledge and perspectives. With this internalized knowledge, students can enter democracy and contribute to the benefit of society. Therefore, as both an enrolling member of a public education system and a future educator, my inherent belief is that every human being, regardless of differences, has the right to critically and autonomously think for themselves. This notion is repeatedly stressed and reflected in both theory and real educational settings. Whether it is creating a “culture of inquiry” (McTighe, 2013, p.81) where students are always engaging and questioning the material, providing a “big idea” (Wiggins, p.69) to narrow the conceptual focus of curriculum content, or establishing essential questions for students to refer back to, the practices mentioned in theories and reflected by educators all commonly emphasize critical thinking for the human mind. Naturally, the rationale and motivation for educators stems from a common point – the belief that every individual deserves the right to autonomously think for oneself. This is the motivation that perpetuates me to teach, the intrinsic drive that constructs my overall educational goal: the fostering of critical, autonomous thinking.
The next step questions the method – how would I successfully transfer the aforementioned skills to students? The way I empower autonomous thinking to students is by creatively integrating social issues into school curriculum. In particular, during my field experience I had the chance to work with students in small groups as well as outside of the classroom, in extra-curricular programs. In both cases, students expressed utmost interest in learning when the topics they dealt with were relevant, social issues occurring in their immediate environments. As a result, I realized empowering students with critical thinking relied on my responsibility as a teacher to incorporate social issues within activities and lessons. This idea is reflected in my personal pedagogy, in which open perspectives and logical, critical evaluations are emphasized. As self-capable citizens, students must be able to exercise logic and rational evaluations towards the reality they experience. It is only through this rational reflection students take ownership of knowledge, thus transforming themselves from students to adult citizens. Continuing on, a student matures and develops best through communication – interaction with different people to realize and understand the diversity in perspectives. This too contributes to my personal pedagogy, in that peer communication and interaction will be consistently valued throughout lessons. By interacting with others, students are easily exchanging information, understanding different experiences and skills in order to both personally and professionally develop as a member of society. In other words, it is through these three pillars – social improvement, communication, and critical thinking – in which my educative process is both built upon and geared towards. How do I bestow critical reasoning to students? By establishing lessons respecting the fundamental ideals of social change, dialogue, as well as critical thinking.
This brings to light the final questions at stake – what exactly do I do as an educator? As a current student and future educator, it is in my belief that students engage and learn most efficiently when they are exhibiting joy. As witnessed in my field experience, students become easily bored and lose focus, especially on their last period on a Friday. However, it is often also the case when students genuinely feel happiness or fun from participating in activities, students tend to want to engage more and provide bigger contributions to the class. Therefore, it is my obligation as a teacher to provide an extensive variety of activities to students. This is easily attainable especially when implementing issues of social justice into the curriculum, as social issues cover a spectrum of abstract, moral ideas, and are available through a multitude of platforms, such as magazines, television, or the internet. For lessons, I will transfer information through the various modes available, devising lesson plans such as debates, creative production of media, and using the internet to gain and interpret information. At the same time, it is also important for students to use this gained knowledge and exert ownership over it. As a result, activities promoting critical reflections such as journal entries or writing multiple drafts of essays will be conducive in fostering critical thinking among these students. Nevertheless, it is prevalent that students – no matter how engaging the activity is – often fail to become engaged as much as the teacher wants them to be. This was explicitly realized during my initial runs of my lesson plan – students were still bored despite my quick pace and simple activities. In this sense, it is crucial to bring abstract ideas and personalize said ideas into the students’ lives to maximize motivation. By personalizing this abstract issue, students feel a genuine connection between the social issue and the student’s personal stance in society, thereby fostering critical thinking to rationally evaluate the implications for this issue on the student’s personal life. This is why integrating social issues is essential to the educative process. By discussing and dissecting issues of global justice on a consistent basis, students are able to critically think for themselves and thus emerge as autonomous citizens of a democratic society.
In the words of market analyst Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it”. To put my teaching philosophy back into Sinek’s perspective of market-demand relations, I offer this: “I value critical, autonomous thinking as a basic quality to which every human being deserves the right to. How do I assert this belief? By creatively integrating issues of global justice into school pedagogies. Naturally, I just happen to be a great teacher”.
McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2004). Understanding by Design. In Understanding by Design: Professional Development Workbook (pp. 69-119). ASCD.
Sinek, S. (Director) (2009, September 16). How Great Leaders Inspire Action. TED Talks. Lecture conducted from TED, Newcastle.
Wiggins, G. (2013). How do we Establish a Culture of Inquiry in Classrooms? In J. McTighe (Ed.), Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding (pp. 81-100). ASCD.