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Why Do We Have to Do This?

Why Do We Have to Do This?
Rob Mather, Associate Head of School

“Why do we have to do this?”

This is a familiar question for those of us in schools—and one that is entirely appropriate, although it doesn’t always feel that way.

We hear some form of this question all the time. Homework assignments, attendance policies, required school-wide events can all lead to “Why do we have to do this?” Of course, assigning one’s own degree of import to tasks or obligations that seem unappealing at first blush is entirely predictable. And, unsurprisingly, “Why do we have to do this?” it isn’t always expressed openly and directly by students. Sometimes it’s communicated in more subtle ways, like missed assignments or late arrivals.  

As adults who care deeply about the students we support and serve, we should always avoid the sometimes accurate but completely unreasonable—“Because I said so”—a reply that has spurred eye rolls for generations. In actuality, “Why do we have to do this?” is an incredibly important question, especially in a school.  

If an individual is asked to expend time, energy, and thought on a task, in order for it to be meaningful, there should be an investment in and understanding of what the task is going to accomplish. If someone is required to meet an expectation set by someone else, there must be some level of understanding about why the expectation exists at all.

“Why do we have to do this?” might be recast as “What’s the goal?” or “Why is this worthy of my investment?”

As adults, we do this regularly before making a decision about how we use our time, money, or other resources. But, as adults, we also enjoy much more autonomy to make these sorts of decisions than adolescents do.

Students, to a different degree, make this same calculation each day in school when they consider whether they will engage in a group project, offer an observation to a classmate’s comment, or jump into a science lab. 

At Dana Hall, we welcome this question. Even if it can slow down our lesson plan, trip up our afternoon schedule or lead to a later evening in the dorm. It’s our role to offer the relevance to students—to articulate why a particular skill leads to another skill later in their development, or how a course’s material has meaning in other areas of their lives, or how a behavioral expectation is actually driven by compassion and concern. As educators, we do this explicitly (“You’ll see this again next year when you take Geometry”) and implicitly, (“Thank you for sharing that about what is happening in her life, you’re a good friend”). Both of these responses help train developing brains with the reasons and the context. 

“Why do we have to do this?”

Engaging with the “why” demonstrates empathy with a willingness to appreciate the impulse behind the question. It also offers a mission-driven opportunity to demonstrate our shared values and our goals for the students in our care.