Wednesday, 22 September 2010 17:45

Tip #5: Class Mission Statement (Part 1 of 3)

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This week I continue to present ideas that connect to the four beginning-of-the-year priorities introduced in Teaching Tip #1.  This tip addresses the third priority: establish a sense of purpose in our classrooms so students understand why it’s important to come to school each day and work hard.  

The most powerful step that we, as teachers, can take to establish a sense of purpose in our rooms is to create a Class Mission Statement with our students.  The process of writing the class mission statement generally takes one week and produces a phenomenal reference point that helps children understand the many purposes of their learning, improve their behavior, work with greater motivation and enthusiasm, and find greater meaning in their work.  I simply cannot imagine myself teaching without this tool.
The Teaching Tips will focus on this topic for the next three weeks.

Week 1: Introducing the Class Mission Statement
Week 2: A Step-by-Step Process for Creating a Class Mission Statement With Our Students
Week 3: Using the Class Mission Statement as a Consistent Reference Point Throughout the Year

Introducing the Class Mission Statement
School is perhaps the only organized activity in a child’s life where the purposes of attending are not immediately obvious.  In little league, band practice, and drama club, for example, kids can quickly figure out that they attend practices and rehearsals to prepare for upcoming games and performances.  In school, students prepare for the future, but the link between today’s preparation and tomorrow’s performance isn’t always clear.  As a result, teachers must make a concerted effort to establish this sense of purpose, and the best way to accomplish this task is to write a class mission statement and refer to it consistently throughout the year.  

A mission statement is an organization’s formal statement of purpose.  According to Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First, mission statements “capture what you want to be and what you want to do...and the principles upon which being and doing are based.”  A class mission statement describes your highest priorities and includes the major goals and ideas that identify yours as a unique group of people.  The document enables students to see themselves not just as individuals, but also as “contributing parts to a greater whole.”  Developing the mission statement provides individuals with an opportunity “to envision ways their combined talents and energies can make a difference.” [Full citations for these quotes, as well as a comprehensive treatment of this topic, can be found in Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8: Bringing Out the Best in Your Students.]

Sadly, many teachers have not had positive professional experiences with mission statements.  Oftentimes, mission statements are “presented” to school staffs by administrators, and employees are asked to embrace the documents, even though they had no chance to offer meaningful input during the creation process.  With no input, there is no ownership, no emotional investment, and no buy-in.  To make matters worse, after mission statements are presented with great fanfare, they are frequently put in a drawer and forgotten.  If you have experienced a situation similar to the one I have described, please keep an open mind as you read the Teaching Tips over the next couple weeks.  When we are in our own classrooms, we can create these documents with everyone’s involvement, refer to them throughout the year, and use these reference points to their full potential.

One final note.  In a typical classroom activity each student will produce his or her own piece of work.  Sometimes, partners or small groups will collaborate on a project.  Rarely, though, does every child in a classroom have the chance to contribute energy and ideas to an important project that the class as a whole will use throughout the year.  Writing a class mission statement offers this type of special opportunity.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.