Blog Author: Erin Boatmun, Curriculum Coordinator, Sunray ISD
Years ago, when I was an education student at a small, rural university, one of my professors lectured over the authorship of effective lesson plans. He said, “When you are teaching class—when you are teaching anything, for that matter—your students only want to know one thing—WIIFM.” He pronounced it, “wiff-em.”
I can remember looking around the room for affirmation that I was not alone in my confusion at Dr. Thatcher’s curious inflection of that uncertain term. Nope. I’mgood, I discovered. Others like me. Their eyes dancing like mine. Our all-inclusive powers of collegiate-level intellectualism are swinging and missing, waiting now, somewhat impatiently, for the big reveal.
At the time, the world did not speak acronym as plainly nor as often as it does today. Ultimately, though, our small class was indoctrinated that day into the mysteries of WIIFM. Whether or not the term will find its way to Wikipedia and the broader masses is still a matter of some conjecture. “What’s In It For Me?” he elucidated. I was stunned.
It was hard for me—a future elementary teacher—to believe that the young minds I was dreaming of educating would think that way. Was I naïve? Had I been operating that way, myself, as a student? Or had I been—was I, in fact, being—misguided? There was really only one way to find out.
I landed my first job in bi-lingual kindergarten, but, as I have continued that journey through nearly every grade level and even into administration, I have found Dr. Thatcher’s lesson to be, invariably, true. Over the years, however, as is the destiny of some lessons, I have chosen to condense its contents, as much for the sake of simplicity as for the need to make its magic more authentic to me. So I no longer consider What’s In It For Me? when teaching. I only ask Why? No acronym intended. No confusion necessary. From before kindergarten and all the way through to the end of our academic and professional careers, our charges will always and only really need to know “Why?”
Simon Sinek says in his book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”
Let’s be honest, it is easy to manipulate students’ and teachers’ schedules to fit our visions, but choosing, instead, to inspire them to aspire to those visions requires some real work. Most of the time, we can easily explain to stakeholders WHAT we are envisioning; usually, we can also fairly easily verbalize HOW we plan to reach those visions, but getting everyone to understand our WHY can be tricky.
Why are we making the decisions we are making?
Why challenge the status quo?
Why should stakeholders buy what the district is selling?
I would like to challenge each of us to consider our WHY and to work toward our own authentic methods of inspiring others to see…especially if they’re wondering, What’s in it for me?
Why always matters. WAM. Eureka! I need an ‘H!’