#4: The importance of the right frame of mind

Although Simon Sinek’s TED talk had a distinct if not complete focus on the marketing and business impact of his research concerning models of approaching an issue, I was interested in much of his ideological framework. One quotation in particular stuck with me, mostly because of the doors it opened: “The goal is not to do business with people who need what you have, the goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” I liked the idea of connecting with people with similar mindsets, but this statement also drew my attention to the fact that in approaching the issue of educational equity for ELLs and new Americans, there must be a focus in not only involving those people themselves (which is obviously integral to the work) but also on bringing in people who the issue might not directly affect. This is important both because a shift involving people in any community inherently involves everyone else, and because I believe that it is a responsibility of people who are privileged enough not to face certain challenges to use that agency to help those who do. This idea of Sinek’s implies a focus not just on the facts of any given issues and its intended outcome but on the belief that drives those goals and even the beliefs that oppose them. In other words, in order to approach this issue in a meaningful way, we have to look at the underlying ideas that foster situations in which ELLs and new Americans are at a disadvantage, as well as at the community sentiments that allow these issues to persist.

This was also the theme that really struck me in my research. As with any issue involving education, it is wrapped up in pedagogy and best practice methods and legislation, but what I found most interesting (and true to Sinek’s why→how→what approach) was an article out of the Annenberg Institute about changing the paradigm surrounding the issue, written by a woman who was an English language learner herself. She noted that when people approach the topic of ELLs and immigrants in U.S. education, it is usually seen as a problem, when it could be seen as an asset: having bi- or multilingual and bi- or multicultural students is a way to enrich the entire school community, and if those students’ native languages are not simply dropped in favor of English, then the entire student body has an opportunity to learn a new language and culture. This also puts American students more on par with European students, who often learn and speak several languages at a young age. 

I was also interested by approaches involving direct connections to very young children with parents from a different country, and by approaches which work to make the field level when students enter school by providing pre-k assistance. The National Education Association provides several articles advising educators on good methods for involving parents whose native country is not the U.S. and/or parents whose first language isn’t English, and they noted the importance of reaching out to them in a variety of positive and welcoming ways, so that the child’s education can be supported by multiple people. Arne Duncan, a recent U.S. Secretary of Education, also noted the importance of providing accessible prekindergarten opportunities so that students enter elementary school on equal footing. He mentioned a case in Chicago in which the opening of 3-6 p.m. prekindergarten in Hispanic areas where there were long waiting lists for other time slots made a huge difference.

Returning to Sinek’s approach, I’d like to note that in pretty much all of the other work I’ve done involving school growth and reform, Sinek’s model has been a central tenet. I’ve been learning from and working with the Vermont organization UP For Learning since I was a freshman, and this is the model they use. (In fact, I’m co-facilitating a Communicating School Redesign class right now, and I worked with a youth-adult team on Friday to help them craft their own why→how→what statement about why transforming schools to fit the 21st century is so important!) It’s not by any means final, but right now my pitch is as follows:

We live in a small state in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world. This has enormous advantages, such as the support of tight-knit and meaningful communities, but it also has tremendous disadvantages; namely, a lack of ethnic and cultural diversity that does not reflect the world as a whole and is not conducive to young peoples’ understanding of the greater world and growth of a skill set that allows them to interact with people different from themselves. This creates inherent inequities when people from other countries or whose first language is not English join these communities, especially when children who are English language learners and/or immigrants enter public schools, because those institutions often cater exclusively to people who know English (and have a Western world view). However, this also provides an incredible opportunity for the growth of the community towards a dynamic that is more progressive and in sync with the 21st century. This can be achieved by understanding and being flexible to the needs of these students and the value of their background, and by not only actively welcoming them into the educational communities but letting non-English language learners benefit from proximity to someone whose experience they can learn from.



Maxwell, Lesli A. “Arne Duncan Touts Advantages of Bilingualism.” Education Week. N.p., 30 May 2013. Web. 02 Oct. 2016.

“5 Steps to ELL Advocacy.” National Education Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2016.

“Partnering With Families and Communities.” National Education Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2016.

“Welcoming ELL Parents Into Your Classroom.” National Education Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2016.

Tung, Rosann. “Innovations in Educational Equity for English Language Learners.” Voices in Urban Education. Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, n.d. Web. 02     Oct. 2016.

How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Perf. Simon Sinek. TED.com. N.p., Sept. 2009. Web. 2 Oct. 2016.

Featured Image is by Anders Sandberg

Clara Lew-Smith

2 Responses to “#4: The importance of the right frame of mind

  • Clara:
    What an incredibly insightful and well-written blog. I, too, agree with you that Sinek’s piece missed the fact that it’s good to do business with those with whose beliefs you share but it may be more important to do business with those with whom we disagree. That is, we should be reaching across the aisle rather than going down the same aisle we’re used to visiting.

    I love your discussion or paradigms and paradigm shifts. You do a great job of saying that the current paradigm is that we need to “fix” the “problem” of ELLs in our schools. However, let’s break down this paradigm and enter into new territory. In other words, let’s try to see this as an opportunity rather than a problem.

    Here’s just one question for you to consider: what strategies do you have, or what kinds of strategies can you study, to convince someone that a problem is really just an opportunity disguised as a problem? We live in a world of standardization: our tests are standardized, our curricula is standardized, etc. Therefore, to a certain extend, we have to be standardized. But breaking out of this standardized thinking is at the heart of your inquiry here. How do we do that? You’ve got a GREAT topic here but a very difficult topic at that. I’m really enjoying your thinking.

  • Dianne Baroz
    7 years ago


    Bravo! What a great blog post…you really got at the heart of the topic and brought me along for the ride as you explained how you got there. Discerning what is important to you and how it will further your thinking will ultimately bring you closer to your end result—making a difference in your community about something that really matters to you.

    I was impressed that you switched the paradigm to researching about ELL themselves and how they are assets to their school communities. You are researching credible sources—Education Week, Annenberg, NEA. Also, you introduced me to UP for Learning, which I was not familiar with. I can see that you have learned much by working with this group over the last few years. Another source you might want to subscribe to is The Teachers Edition (http://www.ed.gov/teaching/teachers-edition-archive) put out by the Dept of Ed. This article was in my email this morning:

    Equal Opportunities for English Learners
    The Department recently released new non-regulatory guidance on Title III of the Every Student Succeeds Act to help schools and districts provide effective services to English language learners. The guidance will help support services to the more than 4.8 million English learners enrolled in U.S. schools in grades K-12, as reported in the 2014-15 school year. The guidance is accompanied by the Newcomer Toolkit to help educators and other support staff that work with immigrant students. This work continues to build on the Department’s commitment to educational excellence and ensuring equal access for all students.

    This is an important and timely topic that you are researching. Syrian refugees will be relocating near Rutland (http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2016/09/28/syrians-approved-rutland/91238678/). Transforming schools for English learners is a reality, and you are correct about the “importance about the right frame of mind.” How this happens will be key and getting buy-in by the communities will be crucial.

    Keep up the great work!

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