Simon Sinek is one of my all time favorite thought leaders. Everything he says resonates with the way I want to lead. His TEDx talk on Start with Why has been viewed over 34 million times and is totally on point. The impact of asking “why” before “how” brings a different sense of meaning to a movement. This summer I was reminded that sometimes the where is as impactful as the why.

The #EdWriteNow team asked me to part of a 10 person crew that was tasked with developing a 50,000 word book in less than 3 days. Daunting task for any group. The people in the room were exceptional writers. For me, the complexity of the situation was not completing my portion of the book, but completing it to a point that was at the level of those around me. The why was clearly defined….develop a text that would push people’s thinking and benefit a good cause, in this case The Will To Live Foundation. The “why” drove the conversation, but the “where” held the impact.

It would have been easier and more cost effective to share the why with a group of 10 people across the country via email or video, let everyone write their 5,000 words, and submit them to the publisher. We all could have stayed in our homes, written in places that have collectively produced hundreds of blog posts, and carved out a few hours at the end of the day to make sure we got the task completed. The why wouldn’t have changed. The desire to produce a book that moved people’s thinking and benefiting a good cause would not have changed, but I truly believe that the text would not have been nearly as impactful.


Watch The Will to Live video alone and you will be moved. No doubt about that. Now watch it with 9 passionate educators...and it’s time to move the world. The collective switch that was turned on at the end of the video could be felt by everyone in the space. 5,000 words was less about completion and more about how one weekend could change the way we talk about education. The why was redefined by the looks, tears, and countless reminders of stories we all had from our past about kids who were struggling and their voice wasn’t being heard. The where made it feel like we were in it together.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter I wrote on changing the way we talk about education…

I was 8 years old and I remember it like it happened yesterday. My parents drove me up to the front of the brand new building. It was gorgeous. The windows were incredibly clean. The flowers leading up to the door were perfect. My mom grabbed my hand and we walked through the parking lot together. She told me it was going to be ok and she understood how I was feeling because it wasn’t her favorite place as a kid either.

We walked into the building and even the smells reminded me of the last time I had entered. The pit in my stomach was real. I knew exactly how the day was going to go. I was going to be told I needed to do things differently and at one point someone would sit down with my mom and tell her what had to change at home to make things better.

As we waited in the front office I thought about all the times I had there in the past. They all shaped the way I was feeling at that moment, and that feeling wasn’t great. Minutes seemed like hours. I started to get anxious, could feel my palms sweating profusely, and my heart started to race. It was almost time. I just wanted to hide. I kept thinking of what I could have done to make what was going to happen next more manageable.

The door from the waiting area started to open slowly, and it was time. A very friendly woman opened the door with a bright smile and a skip in her step. It was clearly not what I needed at that point. She looked at my mom, then looked at me, and said, “Dr. Craig will see you now.” It was the first of 2 dental appointments that month. My parents used to make both appointments for me every six for the cleaning and one to get the inevitable cavities filled.

 Walking into schools should not feel like a long walk to the dentist chair, but we have to understand that everyone walking into our building may not feel like it is the best experience in the world.  The reality is that everyone had a different experience in school and, like it or not, those experiences shape the attitude that our public has when it walks through the hallways.  The story doesn’t change until we acknowledge that it’s real; we need to be intentional about changing the narrative, and build momentum for the next generation of students, teachers, and community members to ensure that the stories reflect what is happening in that space.

Educators, look around and see who is leading students.  Likely, the majority of teachers in your building had a relatively good experience in school.  People don’t choose to spend their careers in a place where they had a bad experience.  The experiences that our staff members had in school are not always the same as those of the parents who send their most prized possessions to us every day. The narrative needs to be changed.

We need to start talking about mental health differently. We need to know that it impacts families in every socioeconomic category, in every race, and in every part of the world. We need to understand that sometimes it is just one conversation that helps those around us. We have the ability to impact how people feel with every interaction. Collectively we can help. This was our why...and I couldn’t be more proud of the work that came out of the where.

Check out these blog posts on the experience from some incredible writers…

Jeff Zoul on changing the way we think about change

Tony Sinanis on changing the way we see learning

Kayla Delzer on changing the way we think about relationships in school.

Starr Sackstein on changing the way we think about assessment.

Tom Murray on changing the way we think about technology in the classroom.

Sanee Bell on the importance of teacher engagement.

Amber Teamann on changing the way we think about leadership

Bob Dillon on changing the way we connect with community partnerships.

It was an absolute honor to be part of this project. Education Write Now comes out in December. Great opportunity to support an incredible cause and look differently at the way our schools function.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo