BIT17 Ignite: Find Your Why

The following is my talk from the BIT17 Ignite session on November 9. The automated slide deck is here: 20 slides, 15 seconds each, for 5 minutes total. What a thrill!

We’ve been asked to speak tonight to share our passions. There’s a lot that I’m passionate about - I’ve always got too many things on the go! So instead, I’m going to take a slightly different approach, and share WHY I’m passionate.

Have you ever learned a new word, and then all of a sudden, you start seeing or hearing that word everywhere? You swear you’ve never heard it before, but suddenly it’s in the news, in the book you’re reading, or in a conversation?

At the end of the summer, for me, it wasn’t just a new word that seemed to be popping up everywhere, it was a new question. I saw it in tweets, I saw it in blogs, I saw it in the books I was reading. And that question, was WHY.

WHY? Such a little word, but such a big question! And it’s one I started asking myself. Why am I here? Not in the existential sense, but with respect to my career and my life. Why am I a teacher? Why am I a co-ordinator? Why do I do this?

For me, the search for the answer to my WHY started with something I had read the previous summer in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. He was looking at which core values allowed good companies to focus their energies in order to blossom into great companies.

One of his major finds was that great companies had a "Hedgehog concept" focus. The hedgehog has one defense: to roll into a ball. It’s simple, but hugely effective: it works in 99% of the times the hedgehog needs defense.

According to Collins, a business can find its hedgehog concept at the intersection of three questions: What are you deeply passionate about, What drives your economic engine, and What can you be the best in the world at?

My friend Julie, who had also read the book, redefined this for education. She re-wrote the questions as: What is my educational passion? What drives the educational engine of my position? What am I best at?

With lots of thought, I could come up with my answers to these questions. But I kept coming back the WHY. Why are these my answers?

I then read Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why. If you can define your WHY, he says, the HOWs and the WHATs of your day to day job fall into place naturally. They become the answers to your questions that define your hedgehog concept.

So I played the WHY game with myself. I tried to find the WHY behind my job, my career, my passion for education. WHY am I HERE?

Do you know WHY you are here? Give some thought to YOUR WHY.

My WHY turned out to be something I had known about myself for a long time, but had never seen it as my driving force: I love to learn. I want to learn how things work and why they work. I want to learn languages. I want to learn from anyone and everyone around me.

And I really do believe that we learn better together. There is so much that we can learn from each other, and I deeply believe that collaboration is key to furthering our experiences, particularly in education. Learning is my passion.

This passion for learning seeps into everything I do: how I plan lessons for my students, how I interact with my colleagues, how I seek out new connections across my board or across the province. How I answer my hedgehog questions. This is why I teach. This is what drives me.

If we want to motivate as educators, if we want to be trusted as educators, and if we want to make a difference, we have to be authentic to our WHY. The more clarity you can bring to your WHY, the more consistent you will be with HOW you do things, and even WHAT is it you do on a daily basis.

And yes, that WHY has to be there. Because when it is there, it provides us with a path, and keeps what we do aligned with what we feel is important. And when it’s not, we tend to drift.

So I challenge you: take some time to journal, meditate, ponder, and explore. See if you can find not only what you are passionate about, but also WHY you are passionate about those things, and notice how that affects everything you do in education.

I challenge you, to find your why.


  1. Great post! I like the inner hedgehog idea

    1. I can't take any credit for it, but it definitely helped me find my focus - especially as I was coming into a new role in my education career!

  2. I do too! The Educational Engine is an interesting question. And Julie is super smart!

    1. While the "what am I best at?" question was the hardest for me to answer philosophically, the educational engine question really had me questioning the WHY of my board - something I had never done before!


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