Saturday, May 2, 2015

Purpose Motivates


It’s a child’s first, most frequent question (ask any parent of a 2-year-old). It’s also what inspires adults and creates success for leaders from Apple to the Wright brothers to Martin Luther King, Jr. (watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”). 

Don’t we owe it to students, then, to tell them why they are in our class? (And the inspirational answer isn’t “So you can pass the test,” “So you can graduate,” or “You’ll understand when you’re older.” Seriously—another teacher once told me that’s what he would tell a student who asked!)

Is it any wonder that most of the buzz right now among teachers about what works in education starts with helping students understand the significance of what they are learning or doing? Here are a few examples that spring to mind:
  • To what extent do your students know why the content, skills, and habits of mind in your discipline are important? To practitioners of the discipline? To the students’ future as well as to their current lives?
  • To what extent do your students know how what they are doing today in class connects to that importance?
Heres what I believe about the significance of high school English class:

A literate life confers the ability to define ourselves, to enter the perspective of others, and to have a voice in the world. This is my experience as a literate person, and it is my dream for my high school English students. 

So we are going to learn to engage with reading, listening, thinking, speaking, and writing in personally powerful ways. Let’s read Night. Let’s write about disregard for human dignity. Let’s present about ways human dignity is disregarded or protected in the world today. Even grammar, vocabulary, and editing exercises are means to this end. 

What is your dream for students in your classroom?

Teachers are leaders in our classrooms. Here’s the closing to Sinek’s Ted talk, mentioned in the first paragraph—with the small modification of replacing leaders/lead with teachers/teach: “There are [teachers], and there are those who [teach]. [Teachers] hold a position of power or authority, but those who [teach] inspire us. We follow those who [teach] not because we have to but because we want to. We follow those who [teach] not for them, but for ourselves. And it’s those who start with why that have the ability to inspire those around them, or find others who inspire them.”

Be the Apple, the Wright brothers, the Martin Luther King, Jr., of your classroom—inspire learning—make sure your students know why. If you need help, check out any of the links above. Find someone who inspires you.

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