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July 8, 2024

“Five Whys” Analysis: Finding the Roots of Teacher Sustainability

Summertime is the time to recharge. Time to read a book (for pleasure!), plant in your garden, and sleep in. The summer feels good. Every summer, I think fondly about teaching. All those frustrations (the missing assignments, broken wifi connections, student behaviors, subbing on my prep) disappear as summer rolls around, and by the fall, I always arrive hopeful, happy, and refreshed. 

But if you ask me how I feel about teaching in December? That’s an entirely different story. 

Fall teaching workshops are often filled with reminders to “find your why.” Personal reflections asking you, “Why do you teach?” or “Why do you believe in education?”

Unfortunately, there is another why question that remains unanswered: if I am passionate about education, then why does this work feel unsustainable? 

Perhaps we don’t need help finding our why as much as we need help figuring out the how

  • how can I make education a sustainable profession for me? 
  • how can I operate in a system that often feels inequitable and contradictory to my values? 
  • how can I find happiness and peace when the day-to-day operations of school often feel quite the opposite? 

To answer these questions we need to find the roots of the issues. A Root Cause Analysis can help us do this by inviting us to ask “why” as an entry point for digging deeper rather than a destination for accepting the challenges of education because we care about our students. The Five Whys is a powerful tool to help us do this. 

For example, my problem could be stated as: Teaching does not feel sustainable for me. I need to start following a trail of whys to investigate further. It might look something like this:

Image Source: Teaching Channel

After digging Five Whys deep, I am now beginning to uncover some root causes and identify which whys I have agency to change. For example, I might not have control over the lack of school funding, but I have control over communication between the community and my classroom. Use this template to view the above example and then create a Five Whys analysis to answer your own questions about education.

This does not mean all roots grow the same! Sometimes a Five Whys analysis will show there is nothing in your control to change. Or you might hit a dead end after three whys, or barely scratch the surface after six: that’s okay! Remember, the purpose of the Five Whys is to discover that sustainability challenges are more complex than repeating a teacher mantra every morning on our drive to work or getting “I love my students” tattooed on our arms.

Digging deeper into the whys will help us eventually arrive at the hows of our work. By discovering our hows, we can uncover ways to do our work in sustainable ways, to not only believe in our why, but to live it.


About the Author

Julie Kuntz holds a B.A. in English and a Master’s in Education. Drawing on her years as a Middle School ELA Teacher, Julie develops content that is practical and highly engaging! Additionally, she is passionate about fostering equity in schools.

Fun Fact: Julie and her husband own a custom home renovation company, Custom by Kuntz!

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