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Why you need to find your Why as a language teacher

In this post, I'll be talking about why you should think about your why (pun intended). You can also download a free workbook that you can use to further explore your why and draft your own why-statement.


But let's start.


You might be familiar with Simon Sinek’s TED-talk ‘Start with Why’, or his book with the same name.


If not, watch his TED-talk immediately and then come back to this blog post (it only takes 5 minutes, I’ll still be here, I’ll just put the kettle on in the meantime).



You need to find your mission, your ‘why’. Your mission is something that you passionately believe in, which you will use as an underlying thread in everything you do. Your mission should get you excited to get out of bed in the morning and be something that you can passionately talk about with clients as well as your friends.


When your mission becomes clear, it will be much easier to create content and material for your online business.


In his TED-talk mentioned above, Simon Sinek describes how conventional businesses often start with describing what they do, followed by how they do it. It’s a conventional ‘features & benefits approach’.


For a language teacher, it might sound something like this:


I am a French teacher. I offer affordable French lessons online, taught via Skype and by using bespoke learning material. Learn how to speak fluently with me. Book your first lesson today!


This is a typical ‘what’ description, followed by ‘how’. Now let’s look at how a description that starts with why, followed by how and what, could sound:


I believe in global communication across borders as a way to solve conflicts. By using online tools, I help politicians and executives and other professionals how to negotiate and express themselves with clarity and integrity in French. I offer one-to-one sessions in advanced professional French online.


Which one of these do you think sound more interesting, if you were an adult learner looking to develop your professional French (even if you’re not a politician or an executive per se)?


Stop here for a moment and ask yourself: what do I stand for? What are my beliefs?


Of course, wanting to learn a language does not necessary have to involve someone’s values and beliefs. But actually, when someone’s values and beliefs align with the ones we express, the clients are much more likely to do business with us again and again.


It becomes more than just a transaction of money and knowledge. It becomes an expression of an identity; what they believe in.


It’s a bit like when you buy something eco-friendly, or organic. You’re much more likely to stay loyal to a brand or a service provider if they express what you believe in, even if someone else offers you a better price. It makes us feel good when what we do is about something bigger than just ourselves.


As a Language Teacher Rebel, your bigger why is ‘to, through the use of technology, build bridges and inspire language learners so that they can contribute to a more empathetic and understanding world’.


But you also need your own, unique why. Your own why runs like a thread through your life, it inspires you and makes you feel fulfilled. Everyone has his or her own why, you just need to find it.


To find your why, you can:


1. Explore your beliefs

2. Collect stories from your life and career, which carry emotional significance

3. Analyse them all for significant themes

4. Draft your why-statement


Try and collect at least five specific moments from your past, that stand out and that feel significant to you. Write them down. It can be private moments, and it can be professional. It can be anything. The moments should feel special, inspiring, important and significant.


Analyse them to see if you can see some connections or significant themes. This might take a little bit of time, and it’s probably not something you can do in five minutes or so. But it’s important to let it take its time. It’s also important to be specific. You need to find significant moments, not just routines or reoccurring events.


When you have five or so stories, you can select a couple of them that seem to stand out, and analyse them in detail. It can be useful to have a partner helping you in this process. It does not have to be a psychologist, nor your closest friend. Just someone who can listen to your stories and ask probing questions, that can help you see the emerging themes more clearly. If you want to read more in detail about this process, I recommend you reading Simon Sinek’s book Find your why (2017).


When you have analysed these stories, you’ll find that you associate strongly with some of the themes that have emerged. You’ll have a sense of ‘that’s me!’ when you look at them. This is the foundation of your why-statement. The why-statement will finally be refined into a sentence like this:


To _______________, so that _______________.


The first part will contain the contribution you make to others. The second part will contain the impact of your contribution. Remember that this statement needs to be timeless and run through both your personal and professional life.


Therefore, you can’t make a why-statement like this:


‘To teach students online, so that I can work from home’.


Firstly, it isn’t really an impact of your contribution to be able to work from home. It’s more of a personal and practical circumstance, facilitated by teaching online.


Secondly, you may not always work from home. This might change in the future. Therefore, you need to go deeper and create a why-statement that can guide you and live alongside you for the rest of your life.


It’s not about creating an aspiration of what you want to become. If you have gone through the process of collecting and analysing your stories, you’ll find something that is essential and unique to you. It has always been there and will always be there; it’s your core.


A quick side note on why-statements. They are not just text-based and academic in nature, to be published on your website to make you ‘look good’. You need to live them and breathe them. Practice what you preach, so to speak. If you express a belief but don’t live according to it, people will quickly perceive you as artificial and fake.


Your why-statement will help to keep you on the right track as you move forward on your Language Teacher Rebel journey.


Click here to download the free Find Your Why workbook.

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©2018 by Anneli Haake