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Do you know why you decided to become a teacher?

Following his keynote presentation at the IB Conference in Barcelona, in October 2016, Peter Docker – who works with Simon Sinek and the ‘Start With Why’ team – tells IB World how IB teachers can find their ‘why’ and help students do the same

You can debate forever whether educators are born or made, but if you want to discover if the classroom is your calling, ask yourself: “why do I teach?”, says Peter Docker, leadership consultant and executive coach.

Finding your ‘why’ is essential to work fulfillment and better performance, according to Docker. ‘Why’ is a higher purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do. But it’s not as easy as it sounds, because few people can explain exactly why they are drawn towards a particular job.

When you know why you teach, it’s impossible to contain your passion, says Docker. This passion is contagious, and can inspire your students. But, similarly, not knowing your ‘why’ can have a negative knock-on effect in the classroom.

“Being authentic and being of service are two great characteristics of leadership, and when you are teaching you have an opportunity to lead and inspire. But not every teacher does that. Quite often they are not inspired themselves or don’t believe in what it is they are delivering – whether it’s the curriculum or the subject itself – and that affects how students respond to them,” says Docker.

But when you are really passionate about what you believe and put that into words, it allows you to be authentic and inspire others.”

The Golden Circle

So how do you discover your ‘why’? Writing it down in Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ is the place to start, advises Docker. The Golden Circle is a drawn chart that looks at ‘what’ – your job title, ‘how’ – the things you do that set you apart, and ‘why’ – a purpose, cause or belief.

“Your ‘why’ is the very reason you exist,” says Docker. “Knowing our ‘why’ enables us to put into a single sentence what it is we believe in. When we put it into words, we can then put it into action.”

The Golden Circle can be applied to every aspect of life. It’s important for students to discover their purpose too, which has the power to change the world, believes Docker.

It all starts with passionate teachers, says Docker. “Cast your mind back to your school days and think of a teacher that particularly motivated and inspired you – how did they motivate you? How have they impacted the person you are today?”

When students know their ‘why’ they are empowered to make big life choices: “If students know why they do what they do, that opens up all sorts of possibilities for our world,” says Docker. “Many students are leaving school unsure of what they want to do next – a ‘why’ won’t tell you what to do, but it will give you a higher purpose. If every young person knew their Golden Circle, it could change the world.”

Journey of self-discovery

Thinking about why you decided to become a teacher takes courage, says Docker. “When you chose to become a teacher it meant that you gave up other options and possibilities.”

Discovering your purpose is not linked to spirituality or religion. It offers an ideal opportunity for you to be honest with yourself and find out what brings you fulfillment. When you know why you do what you do, you’re more likely to take risks and less likely to feel defeated when faced with obstacles, says Docker.

If you are very clear about your ‘why’ and how that fits into the overarching higher purpose of the environment in which you work, the community, it then gives you the courage to carry on, to overcome the challenge and to fight through when sometimes it can be very easy to give up. This is because you’re seeing the bigger picture.”