Focusing On What Matters
If we could completely start over, create school from scratch, and not be bound by policies and politics...what kind of learning environment would you create? What skills would you want to focus on developing in your students? How would you go about having your students explore these skills and demonstrate their growth? What kind of assessment strategies would you use to measure their understanding and learning?
The Keys of Purpose Driven Learning take ten qualities of successful people and make them the focus of education. These skills can be developed in every subject area to help students reach their fullest potential. More importantly, these skills are needed beyond the classroom to help our students find success once they leave our schools.
Of course, content knowledge is important, and assessment strategies like Standard-Based Grading help teachers evaluate content understanding and skill development for clearer and more purposeful grading. However, our role as educators extends beyond only teaching our content. We don't know what "content" students will need to know 10 years from now. Surely, we cannot predict the advances in technology and changes in the world that will impact what our students need to know. Therefore, we must help students develop the tools to be successful in a world we cannot imagine.
Look at the Keys to Purpose Driven Learning. Consider what your classroom would look like if students were working to build these skills every day. How would your feedback change, if you spoke about these qualities, instead of what they needed to do to get an "A"? Like all skills, these qualities can be taught, practiced, developed, and demonstrated.
In our new school, students are confident in their abilities to learn, grow, and achieve. They are individuals, who are proud of what makes them unique, while being accepting and understanding of those who think and act differently than they do. They enthusiastically try their hardest in everything they undertake, and boldly push through when obstacles get in their way. They are willing to explore and discover answers on their own. They collaborate with each other, openly sharing ideas, thoughts, and opinions. They focus on what needs to get done, doing their fair share and helping out when needed without having to be asked or reminded multiple times. Our students are kind, hard working, passionate, thoughtful, innovative young adults.
The students in our new school are, in fact, the same students we have in our current classrooms. In order to create this amazing vision of what a school can be, our students do not need to change...we, as educators, do!
Key of Purpose Driven Learning
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” - Dr. Seuss
Small children think they can do anything. It is why they truly believe that they can be astronauts, professional athletes, movie stars, and even superheroes. We need to help students retain this confidence as the get older. A growth mindset allows the students to have confidence, not necessarily in a certain skill, but in their ability to learn and improve. Students need to be confident that they CAN get better at anything they choose, if they commit to improving and work hard every day.
"You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star." - Friedrich Nietzsche
If we believe the research, the future belongs to the creative! As more and more content and information can be looked up in an instant, success will be had by those who can implement the information in innovative ways. Offering students choice, not spelling every detail out on a rubric, rewarding the students who take risks, and teaching that failure is an opportunity to learn, all help to nurture creativity. Students need the opportunity to express themselves in different ways. They need to be challenged to share their unique opinions, create original work, and be proud of being an individual. What will lead to greater success…struggling to be an individual or accomplishing to be like everyone else?
“Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity.” - Bo Bennett
It’s easy to be enthusiastic about the classes and work that we enjoy and are passionate about. It’s difficult to attack the things we don’t want to do with the same positive attitude. However, we all know that, as our students get older, there will be things that they don’t WANT to do, but still HAVE to do. Our subject may not be their favorite. Students may not want to take our class. Helping students understand the importance of a positive, energetic outlook, and the benefit to finding the “fun” in the most dreaded of tasks, will help them throughout their lives.
“It is not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts; it’s what you put into the practice.” - Eric Lindros
How do most people succeed? Plain and simple, nose to the grindstone, hard work! We don’t have to dress it up or make it cool, new, and progressive for our students. The fact is, if they want to accomplish greatness, they need to work hard, push themselves to be better, and put forth their best effort every day. Even then, success isn’t guaranteed. However, one thing is for sure…if they don’t put forth effort, they aren’t going to reach their full potential!
“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.” - Seneca
This is the quality that is developed the most in our students over their four years in Middle School. Whether you call it Time on Task, Active Listening, or Student Engagement, the ability of the students to be focused on the task at hand needs to be emphasized in every classroom. Hard focus, like blocking out distractions while taking a test, and soft focus, like thinking about volume, pace, eye contact, and memorization while presenting a science fair project, enables students to effectively follow directions and complete work of which they can be proud.
“Success is to be measured, not so much by the position that one has reached in life...as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” - Booker T. Washington
There was a lot of back and forth between perseverance and resilience when creating the keys of PDL. It was agreed that resilience takes perseverance one step further. While perseverance suggests working hard and putting forth strong effort, resilience adds the ability to adapt when obstacles are encountered. Instead of working hard, but giving up when difficulties and conflict arise, we want our students to be resilient, overcoming obstacles to achieve their goals and our expectations.
"Do your best when no one is looking. If you can do that, you can be successful in anything you put your mind to." - Bob Cousy
How many questions are you asked in the course of a class period…wouldn’t it be great if the students took the initiative to find the answer themselves, before coming to you? How many times do students use a technology failure as an excuse for incomplete work…can’t we expect them to take the initiative to find a way to fix the problem and get their work done on time? We talk about leadership, and yet, we offer students all the answers and accept all their excuses. Leaders take the initiative, problem-solve, find solutions, and get results. What opportunities do you give your students to take the initiative in your classroom?
“Judge a person by their questions, rather than their answers.” - Voltaire
We need to spark curiosity within our students. We need to ignite their passions. We need to give them a reason to dig deeper into their own learning. It’s definitely one of those, “easier said than done” objectives. We need to find out what our students are interested in and provide opportunities for them to explore, create, and share their learning. Perhaps, we don’t need to define every project and assignment. Maybe, we can let the students decide what they are curious about learning, the project they can complete, and the knowledge and skills on which they want to be assessed. We just need to take a step back and guide them in their process.
“Power is actualized only when word and deed have not parted company.” - Hannah Arendt
We do not work alone. Students need to learn skills that will help them find success when they collaborate with others. Being a dependable member of a team is a great place to start. As teachers, we depend on our students to complete the work needed outside of class to help make our face-to-face time successful. Students depend on each other to do their share of the work. They need to be able trust that when they take a risk and fail, that they’ll be supported. Group work can be tough, especially for students who strive for individual success, but learning to work together is a skill that is required to be successful out in the real world.
“See with the eyes of another, listen with the ears of another, and feel with the heart of another."- Alfred Adler
The world would be such a better place if we all learned how to empathize with those with whom we disagree. Put yourself in their shoes. How do you think they feel? Why do you think they feel that way? When have you felt the same way, what did you do, and how did others respond? Building a successful relationship begins with being able to connect with the other person. Find the similarities, work to understand your differences, and build respect for oneself and others.