Saturday, 15 January 2011 17:45

Tip #18: Personal Mission Statements (Part 2 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


A Step-by-Step Process for Creating a Personal Mission Statement

The procedure for creating personal mission statements differs from the class missioning process.  I recommend a four-step plan where everyone works on one step per week for homework.  In week one I ask the kids to complete the following imagination-stretching activity, a variation of one suggested by author Stephen Covey in his book First Things First.  I ask my students to write at least a page and a half in response to this prompt:

“Pretend that you have just turned 80 years old.  To celebrate this milestone, your family, friends, and people from all walks of your life have organized a special dinner in your honor and will give speeches about the kind of person you have been in your life.  Imagine the event in as much detail as you can - the setting, the people, the decorations.  What would you like them to say about you?  What personality characteristics would you like them to emphasize? What achievements, contributions, memories, and stories would you like them to share?  Assume that you have accomplished everything that you ever dreamed of accomplishing and reached all the goals you ever set for yourself.  Finally, as you look around the room, think about the difference you have made in these people’s lives.”

For week two the kids answer the following questions:

What are you determined to accomplish in the future?
What kind of person do you want to become?
What goals do you have in life?
What beliefs and ideas are truly important to you?
What kind of contribution to society would you like to make?

The tributes from week one and the answers from week two become the raw material from which the kids draft their personal mission statements in week three.  At this stage, it is the responsibility of each child to shape these two sets of ideas into 10 sentences that begin with the phrase “I choose.”  Starting each sentence with these words reinforces the point that it is the choices we make in life that will ultimately determine our success and happiness.  Goals will not be reached and success will not be attained by accident or luck.  Only when we make the choice to act a certain way or pursue a certain course will we give ourselves the best chance to fulfill our mission.  

Below is a list of sentences that have appeared on students’ personal mission statements.

“I choose to be a veterinarian.”
“I choose to help save the environment.”
“I choose to study foreign languages.”
“I choose to go to college.”
“I choose to help support my family.”
“I choose to be responsible and respectful.”
“I choose to be an excellent mother.”
“I choose to open a restaurant with my family.”
“I choose to be a basketball and soccer player.”

In the final week of this process, the kids revise and edit their initial drafts and then produce a clean copy.  Besides emphasizing correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling at this stage, I also use this final week to ensure that each mission statement contains a balanced set of priorities.  By balanced, I mean that the 10 sentences address all five of the questions the kids answered during week two and reflect a variety of life roles.  For example, I will ask students who focused their statements exclusively on work and educational goals to add sentences about the contributions they would like to make or the type of people they would like to become.

You probably won’t need to supervise the kids heavily during the four-week missioning process because of their experience crafting the class mission statement and referring to it throughout the year.  Be sure, however, to remind everyone about the importance of word choice and phrasing.  Once the students complete the process, it is important that they have regular opportunities to revisit their personal statements in order to internalize the ideas they contain.

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.