Author Simon Sinek writes that every organization on the planet “always functions on three levels. What we do, How we do it and Why we do it.” Sinek believes that when those three mindsets are aligned, we are able to inspire, innovate and lead. But he also believes that very few organizations (and people) actually think about what they do, and how and why they do it.

As a public school assistant principal and lifelong educator, I am confident that the organization of public education is the most important one on the planet. I’d argue, too, that all education stakeholders could benefit from more often focusing on the what, how and why of our efforts, as a means to lead more boldly for students.

I revisit the what, how and why behind my practice frequently. It centers me when I’m feeling blown over by the work and the negative perception some hold for our school, and it allows me to focus on what matters most: children.

The What: I am in my fifth year as the assistant principal of Valley View Middle School in Bloomington. Our school is high poverty and diverse, serving students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. I enjoy coordinating our instructional leadership team, and directing programs such as the 1:1 technology initiative and standards-based grading and effective feedback. I am proud to have started the first-ever Bloomington Public Schools AVID program. I support learning by knowing my students' barriers and coordinating efforts to erase them. I improve learning by facilitating many management efforts at our school, such as Response to Intervention, teacher hiring, observations and evaluations. Finally, I never stop learning myself.

The How: Great educational leaders have trained me, and not-so-great leaders have taught me what can go wrong in a school when leadership is lacking. My experiences, both personal and professional, shape how I go about my work. Every morning I greet as many students as I can to the building. I believe that relationships start at the door of the school and are an investment in our collective future. Treating all students with respect and love is one of the many ways we show them that we value them, care about them and expect great things from them.

The Why: I choose to lead learning at a high poverty school so that I may be part of the solution to the social justice issue of our time: providing all children with an excellent education. I believe that consistent, effective school leadership is immensely important to student success. I believe that education is the great equalizer and that all children deserve a high quality PK-12 educational experience. I work hard to create a strong academic culture at my school, just like I did in my classroom when I was a teacher.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen that strong leadership really matters to students. I’ve seen, too, that leaders can come in many shapes and forms: principals, teachers, parents, school counselors—the list could go on and on.

That’s why I encourage all of us in education—classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators—to continuously reflect on the what, how and why of what we do. I believe such thinking will help us remain focused on what matters most: children. And when we’re all focused, I believe we’ll see greater leadership, innovation, bold action and success for all students.


Naida Grussing-Neitzel is in her fifth year as an assistant principal at Valley View Middle School in Bloomington, and previously, taught Spanish at Patrick Henry and Robbinsdale Cooper High Schools. She lives with her family (including her former-teacher husband!) in Robbinsdale, and spends her time focusing on educational equity, excellence and achievement for all learners. Naida’s looking forward to sharing ideas on how schools can foster strong relationships—which she believes are the foundation to everything.

The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows' views and opinions are solely their own.


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