Wednesday, 06 October 2010 17:45

Tip #7: Class Mission Statement (Part 3 of 3)

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During this three-week period I describe the most powerful move that we, as teachers, can make to establish a sense of purpose in our rooms - creating a Class Mission Statement with our students and referring to it throughout the year for guidance.  After introducing the concept of a mission statement in Part 1 and outlining the steps you and your students can follow to create a mission statement in Part 2, I conclude by explaining how you can use the document as a consistent reference point throughout the year.

Using the Class Mission Statement as a Reference Point for Support and Guidance
 Enlarge and laminate the class mission statement you created from your students’ ideas so that it can occupy a prominent place on the front wall and front door of your classroom for the entire year.  The first time you read it with the class, you will notice something special occur.  Because you took the time to have the kids answer the same five questions, charted words from the same sample statements, and provided the opportunity for the students to incorporate these words into their own drafts, every single child will be able to look at some part of the final version and say, “I had that.” or “That word came from mine.” or “That sentence was from mine.”  This creates shared ownership.  There is a realization that everyone contributed to the final draft.  As author Stephen Covey puts it, “the process changes us.  It changes our relationships with others who are part of it.”  Covey also notes, “It bonds people together.  It gives them a sense of unity and purpose that provides great strength in times of challenge.”

[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.]

The missioning process produces a powerful founding document.  The statement now “becomes the constitution, the criteria for decision making in the group.”  Its words will guide us throughout the school year, helping to keep everyone focused on what it is we are here to accomplish.  It is our map that shows us the way in times of trouble and uncertainty.  Our mission statement establishes our identity as a unique group of people with a unique sense of purpose.  It reminds us of the combined actions we need to take if we are to live up to the high expectations we set for ourselves.     

Once you have unveiled the entire statement and read it with your students, commit time once a week to reviewing it as a class.  I incorporate these conversations into our morning circle time every Friday.  The process takes only about five minutes, but the results are powerful.  During this time, we never read the whole statement.  Instead, I will ask my students to focus on a specific line, specific idea, or even specific word.  Once I have identified our focus for that morning, I will ask the students to offer examples of how they have brought that idea to life that week, describe how we can improve in that area, or connect that idea to some aspect of our classroom environment.  

Some weeks, instead of selecting a focus in advance, I will ask the kids to share any part of the mission statement that happens to "jump out" to them.  During these “open forum” conversations, students can choose a word, phrase, or sentence from any paragraph and explain why it stood out to them.  In the first half of the year, I tend to do most of the choosing because I want to familiarize the kids with all the major ideas in the statement and go into great depth with these ideas.  Later in the year, I like to have more “open forum” discussions.

A few final points before I wrap up this week’s tip.

• Keep in mind that a mission statement represents an ideal.  Our classes will have to make a concerted, consistent effort to bring this ideal to life.  None of our aspirations will happen automatically.  Each student must do his or her part each day - quality is everyone’s responsibility.  The mission statement cannot just be words on a piece of paper.  For a class to realize its mission, the ideas contained therein must live in the hearts and minds of all group members.  As Covey notes, these lofty ideas must constantly be translated from the mission to the moment.

• It’s perfectly fine for the class mission statement to be quite long.  In fact, the statement I uploaded with last week’s tip is the longest one I have had in 15 years.  We have our students for a whole year, and we have plenty of Fridays to get to know our mission statement on a deep level.  I don’t recommend exceeding one page, but filling up that page is perfectly acceptable.  As classroom teachers, we have so many worthwhile goals and so many bases to touch with our students, it makes sense that we would want to include a large number of ideas to use throughout the year as reference points.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.