Friday, 07 January 2011 17:45

Tip #17: Personal Mission Statements (Part 1 of 3)

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Teaching Tips 5-7 described the creation of a Class Mission Statement and explained how this founding document can be used throughout the year to establish a sense of purpose in our rooms.  Later in the year, we can follow up this initial effort with the creation of personal mission statements.  Participating in this powerful exercise promises to help students better understand the 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 the topic of personal mission statements for the next three weeks.

Week 1: Introducing the Personal Mission Statement
Week 2: A Step-by-Step Process for Creating a Personal Mission Statement
Week 3: Personal Mission Boxes


Introducing the Personal Mission Statement

Like the class compositions discussed earlier, personal mission statements express hopes, purposes, and guiding principles.  The document, however, focuses on the individual student, not the group as a whole.  Creating a personal mission statement empowers team members to chart their own directions, declaring who they are, whom they want to become, and what they are determined to accomplish.  This process demands careful reflection.  For many students, it will be the first time they have thought about their lives on such a deep level.  

The personal missioning process offers students a chance to discover important goals and priorities that can channel their energies in a positive direction.  In First Things First author Stephen Covey comments that one of the unique characteristics of humans is that no matter our circumstances, we have “the creative imagination to envision a better way and the independent will to create change.”  We can choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances, choose our own way.  Furthermore, he argues, developing a compelling vision of the future “is the best manifestation of creative imagination and the primary motivation of human action.  It’s the ability to see beyond our present reality, to create, to invent what does not yet exist, to become what we not yet are.  It gives us capacity to live out of our imagination, instead of our memory.”   

Asking students to chart their own directions also shows them that we value each as a unique and special person.  Trusting students with this responsibility sends the message that we believe the work they do is important, that they are all valuable resources to their community, and that the world needs them to make it a better place.  We express our faith that they have the potential to make a difference in the lives of people and that they have the ideas, energy, and ability to improve the quality of life of their communities.  According to Covey, “everyone has his specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment.  Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated.  Thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”

Unlike class mission statements, which must be done early in the year to maximize their effectiveness, there’s no best time for your kids to create these personal constitutions.  Students should begin defining their personal missions when you believe they are comfortable with the concept of a mission statement and understand how it can help them think about and shape their futures.  Generally, I like my kids to start in January right after the winter break.  That way, I can make a big deal about the project and take advantage of the fact that kids usually return from vacations more focused, more open to new ideas, and more ready for a challenge than usual.

More information about Personal Mission Statements can be found in Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8.


New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.