I knew my purpose for learning to ride a bike and it was so compelling that I was going to do whatever it took to get there.  Long before reading Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2011) or watching his “Golden Circle” TED Talk (third most viewed TED talk ever!), I  learned to ride a bike because I started with my “Why” – my goal, my purpose, my motivation, my belief.  We all did.  We learned to ride bikes because we wanted to go someplace.  We endured and triumphed over the litany of details that comprise riding a bike because we were excited about our Why.  We didn’t persist in our attempts to ride our bikes just to not fall off and not get hurt; we persisted so that we could achieve our Why— independence, exploration, going someplace.

In his TED Talk, Sinek references Apple (Inc.) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as examples of how effective organizations and leaders start with their Why (their vision, where they want to go) and convey it in a compelling manner that is different than the message conveyed from other, less inspiring organizations and leaders.  Martin Luther King, Jr., Sinek says, “gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech, not the ‘I have a plan’ speech.”  So in this article, I’m starting with my Why: I believe all students deserve access to proactive and responsive mental health supports.

A non-example of starting with my Why would be for me to start with current U.S. student mental health data rather than what I believe and where I want us to go.  Twenty percent of children and youth in the United States have a clearly identified need for mental health service but only one-third of these children receive any help at all.  For students who do receive any type of mental health service, 70% receive the service in their school; following schools, the next largest provider of mental health services for students is the juvenile justice system.  Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in young adults (President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003).  These data provoke an emotional response and one that makes us want to reduce these figures but motivation through reductions would be like riding a bike to not fall off.  Starting with our Why helps us to see the goal and convey that vision to others so they want to work toward a vision—proactively helping students— rather than working with constrictions —reducing the suicide rate.

I hope you find this Why equally compelling and want to join me in doing whatever it takes to get there.  Sinek says that although great leaders inspire by starting with Why, they then give us How and What; that is, specific steps to get us there.  I believe the Interconnected Systems Framework defines those specific actions (Eber, L., Weist, M., Barrett, S. (2013).  The Interconnected Systems Framework provides a framework for improving student learning outcomes and environments by linking school mental health systems with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).  PBIS is the most scaled up evidence-based practice in the human services industry, implemented in all 50 states and almost 20,000 schools (Fixsen & Blase, 2008).  To scale-up School Mental Health, the Interconnected Systems Framework leverages PBIS’s research and evidence-based structure by linking the two.  Defined in five key elements, the Interconnected Systems Framework:

⇒ provides a structure and process for education and mental health systems to effectively and efficiently interact;

⇒ promotes strong interdisciplinary and cross-system collaboration;

⇒ supports all students through proactive and preventative tiered-logic;

⇒ provides for ongoing progress monitoring of both student outcomes and fidelity; and

⇒ facilitates active involvement of students, families, school, and community stakeholders (Eber et al., 2013).

Ready to start?  Use the tools outlined in our December 2014 School Tool to engage in these first four steps:

  1. Start with Why — watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk.
  2. Read the Overview and Chapter 1 to the Interconnected Systems Framework (pages 1-17).
  3. Explore Appendix B, Building an Inclusive Community of Practice, and consider its Four Simple Questions:
  • Who cares about this issue and why?
  • What work is already underway separately?
  • What shared work could unite us?
  • How can we deepen our connections?
  1. Remember how you learned to ride a bike by starting with Why and doing whatever it took to get there.

Collaborative exploration of the Interconnected Systems Framework and inquiry into how we support our students’ mental health is a challenging proposition, more challenging than learning to ride a bike.  If we start with Why, we’ll persevere and do whatever it takes to improve all students’ mental health outcomes.  If we start we start with Why, we’ll get there.



Eber, L., Weist, M., Barrett, S. (2013). Advancing education effectiveness: Interconnecting school mental health and school- wide positive behavior support.

Fixsen, D. L., & Blase, K. A. (2008). Implementation: The secret to using science in human service settings. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida. 5th International Conference on Positive Behavior Support, Chicago, Illinois, March 28, 2008.

President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. (2003). Achieving the promise: Transforming mental health care in America. Final report for the president’s new freedom commission on mental health (SMA Publication No. 03-3832). Rockville, MD.

Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Portfolio Trade.