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Best reasons for Why

I’ve been in classrooms for more than 25 years and I’ve seen and experienced pretty well everything a secondary school has to offer. It took a long time into my career, longer than it should have, but I found the secret to limiting conflict with students.  It was being able to explain why.

Working in a high school classroom, I would often hear from students, “why are we doing this?”. It made me cringe when another student would answer for me with, “because it’s busy work”. That’s a terrible reason for doing anything in a classroom. As a young teacher, I didn’t have ready answers to that question of why. I wanted to respond with “because I asked you to” but somehow that didn’t seem right. It sounded like a tired parent who’d given up. I also wasn’t entirely comfortable with the quick answers I provided because I honestly wasn’t sure what I gave as a response was true.

Why were we doing this?

By figuring out my “why” for the day to day activities in my classroom, I suddenly had purpose in the activities that I’d created. I could address the skills that we were practicing or learning. I could explain how the task we were doing was going to feed into a future assignment. I had something that gave a reason to how time was spent in my space. I felt better and being able to explain to students what we were doing allowed them to make choices and know what was being missed out on by not completing the work to the best of their ability.

But my super power comes when I need to say “no”. When a student asks to do something that I don’t want them to do, I have the ability to say no and give the reason why. By presenting my reasoning, students are usually reasonable in their response.

It works like this:

A student asks to go to the bathroom. I say “no, not now”, and proceed to give the why. “I’d like you to stay until the lesson and instructions are completed. That should get us past the first 15 minutes of the class and then we will be in the window of time that the school rules allow for students to be in the hallway. Does that work for you?” It’s like magic. There’s no conflict. There’s no nagging repeat of the question. There’s no sulking or tantrum-like behaviour out of a teenager. We had an adult conversation and my position was made clear.

This also explains why I’m so tired at the end of every work day. I have to be thoughtful and intentional in every task and every response that I give throughout the day. It gets easier as common questions re-occur but making your thinking transparent consistently is work.

But that work makes everything better.

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