With Purpose

“Now is the time to paddle with purpose.”

These words were repeated several times on our most recent outside45 kayak trips as we started our open water crossings. I know I also use the phrase “with purpose” in my daily home life… most often to reorient my son when he is attempting to clean up his room. In these cases, “with purpose” meant to approach the task with intention and determination, as well as perhaps an expediency to get the job done.

How do we use the word ‘purpose’ in education?

  • We want students to approach learning challenges with purpose – intention, resolve, and determination.
  • We strive to make learning purposeful – relevant and meaningful to students’ lives.
  • We explore the purpose of education – the skills, values, knowledge and attitudes that are important to our local and global communities.

But can we really achieve any of these “purposes” without also including sufficient time to process and to practise?

Students can paddle with purpose when they have been given the chance to process and to understand why paddling with purpose is important. Identifying ferry routes on a chart, observing wind and tidal conditions, and checking the ferry schedule helps paddlers process why intention and resolve is important on the next leg of the journey. Then we receive the chance to practise, to follow through with our intentions by undertaking several open crossings over a three-day trip. And finally we identify and celebrate our growth – paddling with purpose on day 3 looks and feels a lot different than day 1. The same kind of processing is essential in our classrooms when learning to: write, read, add, sing, draw, skip, inquire, think critically, cooperate, etc. 

Teachers connect with community members, research local issues, and strive to make learning purposeful. However, we must also allow learners sufficient time to understand and to process what is meaningful and relevant in their own lives. Although I can identify why our paddling trip was purposeful, I’m sure that some of my students did not find the paddling experiences relevant to their lives at this moment in time… or maybe will never see the relevance. We must have permission to process and to practise what we feel is purposeful – to try on new areas of expertise and then have the freedom to change our minds. This is what is so exciting about the move to inquiry-based learning in our classrooms.

The overarching framework – the purpose of education – has been reassessed and rebuilt in many ways with the advent of the turn of the 21st century. Educators, business professionals, government officials, parents, and students have been involved in identifying many of the skills, values, knowledge, and attitudes that are often coined 21st century learning. I see this point in educational reform as a time to process and to practise identified skills and knowledge, and to solidify the values and attitudes that accompany them. There are many areas to focus on: digital literacy, critical thinking, inquiry-based learning, self-regulation, parents as participants, new reporting mechanisms to name just a few.

Educators must make time to process and to understand all of these areas, but also have permission to try on new areas of expertise. This can be overwhelming with so many exciting new ideas being presented and explored by so many individuals. My recommendation – start with one area of inquiry. Ask questions, engage in dialogue with colleagues, practise and process.

Ensure that your own educational journey is conducted with purpose.

3 thoughts on “With Purpose

  1. Time for reflection is needed to either realize or remind of purpose.

    Your post reminds me of a talk given by Jennifer James several years ago who connected Purpose & Grit together and encouraged the audience that even if we realize and deeply understand our purpose, we need frequent reminders of what it actually is and why it truly matters.

    When running a marathon, you clearly need a purpose to cross the start line but there are many steps in between where the finish line is not in sight where one must remember purpose. As there are few finish lines in education, realizing and remembering purpose is perhaps even more important.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Scott. I agree that we need frequent reminders to reorient ourselves and to reaffirm our purpose. I need to remember to take the time to do this – to set aside reflection time on a regular basis. Perhaps this is the purpose of my blog.

      I also think that one of the difficulties in education is that we have so many purposes that can pull us in several different directions. This can be overwhelming for educators and students – we try to do and be everything. I think we need to give ourselves permission to inquire deeply into certain areas of expertise, gain confidence and comfort, and then use this learning to move on when we are ready. Definitely a marathon of learning, but hopefully one that is rewarding.

  2. Pingback: Purpose-Giving People & Places | Thinking about Learning

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