Purpose Driven Learning

What is the PURPOSE of school?

Is the purpose of school simply for students to get good grades, get into elite colleges, pass AP exams, or score high on their ACT's or SAT's?

Is Science simply about following a series of steps in a lab to get a solution


About developing a curiosity for the unknown and having students ask WHY until they figure it out


Is Math just about showing your work and getting the right answer


About building resilience when encountering a problem you don’t understand

Is English/Literature about reading a bunch of chapters in a book and writing a summary


About students striving to be dependable members of the class, who do their work so they can take the initiative to actively participate in the class discussion

Is History about memorizing dates, places, and names


About connecting with the past and empathizing with the decisions of historical figures, the struggles of soldiers in battle, and fight of slaves for freedom

We want students to have positive, enthusiastic attitudes. We want to encourage students to put forth their best effort every day and focus on becoming better versions of themselves. We strive to develop students who are confident in their ability to learn and grow, and who share their thoughts and opinions without fear of failure.  We need students who are creative thinkers and independent learners, challenging themselves to never settle for "good enough"!

Purpose Driven Learning is quite simple in theory.

The purpose of school is learning.

While easy to understand, in practice, Purpose Driven Learning becomes very challenging. We are enslaved to educational standards created by politicians, chained to tests that do not accurately assess knowledge, and confined by fear of the unknown and the non-traditional.

We know the educational system is broken, yet we don’t know how to fix it and are afraid to stray from the path that has been laid before us. We do the same thing year after year and hope for a different outcome. We teach the same way and expect a higher quality of student to be produced. We are scared to change, and yet claim that we are preparing our students for a changing world.

The question you need to honestly ask yourself is…

What did you really learn in school?

If I can’t solve for x, did I really learn advance algebra? If the only thing I remember from French is how to say hello, did I really learn the language? If  I have to look up the date of the Battle of the Gettysburg, WWI, or the Korean War, do I need to relearn my US History?

If we are honest, most of the content knowledge we “learned” in school has long since been forgotten. Facts, dates, names, and vocabulary that we were so heavily tested on have failed to remain important in our daily lives.

Now, if the content we were taught has not lasted, what did we take away from school? For me, I remember the resilience needed to build a marble rollercoaster and a Popsicle stick bridge in Physics. I recall the confidence needed to get up in front of the entire high school to give my Student Council election speech. I needed to put forth my best effort and practice every day because the other members of our symphonic band were depending on me to know the music. My focus on the wrestling mat was essential for wining and the ridiculousness of our men’s choir offered a needed break. High-level thinking in Pre-Cal and big picture problem-solving in American Government gave me skills that I use in my daily life.

It is not the content that I remember from my days in school, but rather the life-skills, the “soft”-skills, the employable-skills…whatever you call them, I am thankful for the skills I developed that have lead me to happiness and success.

After reflecting on our own education, the question we need to ask, as educators, is…

What do you want your students to learn in your classroom? 

The content that we teach will most likely be forgotten. However, the experience we offer the students can be lasting. The focus should not be on what we teach; rather it should be on how we teach it.

Math is not innately boring, nor is reading, writing, or any other subject that often gets accused of lacking excitement. In the same breath, the arts and physical education are not automatically fun and engaging just because of their non-traditional curriculum.

When we understand that what we teach is not as important as how we teach, we begin to ask different questions, we have different expectations of our students, and we put our time and energy into strengthening our curriculum in different ways.

Now, I understand that many teachers feel bound to their content because of national standards, common core, and state testing. I get that, for most of us, we need to prepare our students for the next level of our subject area. Please understand that I am not saying that our content is not important. I am saying that building content-knowledge should not be our main focus, nor is it the purpose of school. It is our job to provide students with the opportunities to learn and explore, create and discover, fail and succeed. Schools need to provide a supportive environment for questions, risk-taking, and self-discovery.

Several years ago, I looked at my curriculum, my teaching style, and my students and decided that content knowledge is not the most important purpose of school. I accepted the reality that my students will forget much of the content they learn in my class. Therefore, I needed to change the focus of my classroom to offer them a variety of engaging experiences, build the skills that will lead them to success outside of my classroom, and challenge them to take the risks that will help them discover their fullest potential. 

If our content is not the focus of our teaching, what should be? Check out the Keys of Purpose Driven Learning for skills that will help our students succeed in our classrooms, will support them throughout their schooling, and will last long after they have graduated!