Tony Gurr

Do we really need more “Why Guys” (n’ Gals) in EDUcation?

In Classroom Teaching, News & Updates (from the CBO), Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 12/05/2012 at 11:02 am

When I first decided to take the leap into the blogosphere (16 months back), I read every single “top blog” on the web – 6 to 8 times…and then, again!

I was looking for the “secret”you know, that “magic ingredient”

I read pages and pages of the advice offered by the so-called social media gurus. Although a lot of this advice annoyed the hell out of me (“education” and “business” are not always the best of bed-fellows), all the best bloggers kept advising me to come back to the same point…what is the PURPOSE of your blog?

I actually liked that…it made sense to who I like to think I am as a man, as a teacher, as a thinker!

Obviously, my blog was always going to be about EDUcation (or COOKing, perhaps)! Funny thing is, I probably would have a got a lot more “hits”, if I had gone with the latter…ne se (and Google Translate still “sucks”)!

The problem was that I am soooooo interested in soooooo many things…classroom practice, technology, leadership, performance improvement, language development, cognitive growth, assessment, curriculum, innovation, teacher education…

In the end, I did go back to PURPOSE…I went back to LEARNing. That was the “line” that seemed to connect all my “dots”.

I drew up my little manifesto…and have always tried to stay true to that.



The thing is – this PURPOSE keeps bringing me back to the notion of:


This is why I loved the idea of the Why Guy (click on this – great video) when I first stumbled onto it – OK; it was not really “that” Why Guy (though it is a fun video clip). The term was (from what I was able to dug up) the brain-child of Mike Castellucci – and it has been picked up by a huge range of organisations and web-based thinkers.


Seth Godin (one of the Blogging Jedi Masters I researched many moons ago) has recently done a post on the importance of having these “guys” (and “gals”) in every institution around the globe…

Seth tells us we need to be asking more questions like:

  • Why does it work this way?
  • Why is that our goal?
  • Why did you say no?
  • Why are we treating people differently?
  • Why is this our policy?
  • Why don’t we enter this market?
  • Why did you change your mind?
  • Why are we having this meeting?
  • Why not?

He’s right – totally right – and those of you that know this blog well will know the types of questions I love to ask…and love others to ask themselves.


Being a “Why Gal” is extremely important for anyone in a LEADership role – we know that everyone is a “boss-watcher” and if you want a “thinking team” you gotta “walk-your-whys”.

TEACHers are leaders – and students are “TEACHer watchers”. If you want to help co-create thinking studentsyou gotta be a “Why Gal” (or “Guy”) in the classroom

You just knew one of these was a-comin’…


I need to tell you a little story about something that happened this week.

You know I have been coaching a few teachers in observation and feedback skills of late. Normally, when I do this type of work – we look at best practices across a whole range of disciplines and practice a few reflection and feedback skills in a more “controlled” environment – then we “step it up”.

This week I stepped it up with two of my favourite “reflectors” – I asked them to observe each other’s class and then take the role of “observer” and give feedback to the “observee” (with me there to “feed back” on the “feedback”). They were both ready – they have established a great LEARNing partnership, they care about each other deeply and they have become really skilled at asking the “right” questions.

The feedback and reflection session went “south” so quickly…it would have made your head spin!

…because of the bloody question “Why”!


Sure, “Why?” is a great question – but it also the type of question that can send us all into a “Freudian panic” faster than Mitt Romney can change his position on just about any issue that matters…to US voters.


A lot of this goes back to how we have been trained to “hear” what the word “why” actually means:

  • Mummy: Why did you do that? I told you what would happen…
  • Daddy: Why didn’t you ace that test? Just a “C”…just a “C”…
  • Grandma: You didn’t do it…Why not? What’s wrong with you…?

Philip Larkin wrote a great poem about how families “condition” us to certain ways of thinking…sadly many institutions continue with this tradition.


Coming back to TEACHersgiving each other “feedback” – look at these:

WHYI giggled a bit as I typed that…do you think a TEACHer might not want to “hear” the red questions, acaba (good save – Google Translate)?


The “Why Guy” is important (in the right context, with the right relationship) – but, we also need the “How Gal”…a gal who knows how to get the “best” out of others. 

…but, most importantly, we need the “How-Do-We-Know-Guy”!

  1. I agree that when faced with a problem, we must react in a way which is more value adding: by asking the right questions and help the person find the best solution herself. I’m not talking about asking just any questions but, rather, employing questions that inspire people to think in new ways and expand their range of vision. As they are not looking for a specific answer, often beginning with “How,” or “What do you think about…,” questions promotes discovering solutions to the problems as you suggest. The person can realize her competence in solving the problem. However, we cannot ignore the role of “why questions” when asked “in the right context and right relationship”. Being a “why gal” sometimes help get more out of an event, so when teaching is considered, asking “why questions” may help a reflector get out of a teaching experience. The important point is taking time to reflect and seeing the reflection process a way of taking full advantage of our experiences. As O’Connor’s stated, “why questions “ provoke deep thinking.

    • Figen – so sensible 🙂 I love what you said about the right question, at the right time 🙂 When we have the right realtionship, we can almost forget the type of question we ask – but helping people to grow beyond the questions we use is the “key”. Questions “do” so many different things – but using questions to “help” another (by “being with” and “being for” that person) is the highest form of “asking” 🙂

      Thank you,


  2. I came to blogging from a totally different angle. I just starting writing, I didn’t (and still don’t) care about being famous and thought it was great when my readership hit ten. I wanted a space to share good practice and lovely learning from my school with anyone who might read it. At the start, the teachers at my own school were my target audience… at least in my head. Most of them didn’t (and still don’t) read my blog unless I draw their attention to a particular post. Before long, I found I was addicted. I wrote for myself. I reflected. I processed my thinking and my learning through my writing. I started to think in blogposts 🙂 Initially, having readers was an added bonus. And then I found that I was engaging with other educators in other places,directly or indirectly through the blog. Suddenly I was connected to the world, learning from and with like minded and differently minded educators. I know WHY I blog!

    I think the WHY questions are important for teachers to ask THEMSELVES. (Look how quickly I have picked up your style). We need to know why we do what we do. Always.In giving feedback WHY questions are important too, to promote reflective practice. The problem with your red questions is that they are why NOT questions. ‘Why DIDN’T you do X’ is inherently a criticism, rather than any kind of useful feedback….

    I think I’ll send the Larkin poem to my kids and see what feedback I get 😉

    • Ed,

      Thx for this – I actually prefer your way but I guess the inner Tony is a bit of a “nerdy-geek” (I still read instructions when I get a new phone) 🙂

      The Larkin poem has been a fave of mine for years – my mum, however, didn’t speak to me for days when she saw it hanging in my bedroom (as a teen) 🙂 But, I also think it applies to kids and teachers – I’ve just come out of a room of kids (learning English) who realise that they are in prep school because their teachers also “f3cked them up”. These kids get what language learning is supposed to be about – now – but struggle with the habits their teachers gave them…we can do better, all our kids deserve more 🙂


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