Educators are very familiar with the question that gives the title of the post. We hear students ask it… frequently. We speculate at their motivation: “Are they trying to distract me?” “Are they trying to get out of doing work?” “Are they challenging my authority?” are all reasonable interpretations of the question.
Leaders are familiar with the questions as well. Teachers ask them when initiatives are announced and directions change. Teachers combine this questions with the cynicism that is cultivated by the “change of the month” club that characterizes organizational leadership in many schools.
When we hear the question (from students or teachers or any other stakeholder), we often miss the hidden message; which is “I don’t see why this matters.”
Human cognition and attention is limited, and both are exceeded by the “things” about which to worry or about which to learn. If we cannot frame our curriculum or our initiatives in terms of knowledge and skills needed to address problems that are real and important to those who we teach or lead, then they will not believe us.
If they don’t believe us, then they will not learn what we hope they learn and what we expect they will find was necessary. My message is brief… when asked “Why are we doing this?” if you are not energized by articulating a sound rationale with ample examples and connections (that avoids the terms “for next year” or “for our students”), then you need to question it yourself.