Friday, 16 September 2011 21:50

The Overall Aim (Part 2 of New "Establishing a Sense of Purpose" Blog Series)

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Introduction to This Blog Series

Establishing a sense of purpose is one of the most important responsibilities teachers face at the beginning of each new school year. Over the next several weeks I will share a variety of ideas that I have used to help students better understand why it is important to come to school every day, work hard, and learn as much as possible.


The Overall Aim (Part 2 of the Series)

The process of establishing purpose begins on a general level with the introduction of the classroom aim.  The aim is the overall objective you and your students work to accomplish.  The first brick in the foundation of a quality classroom, the aim begins to answer the question, “Why are we here?”  Once introduced, the aim pervades every aspect of class functioning, driving decisions and determining goals.

Following the 1994-1995 school year, the Enterprise School District in Redding, CA became one of the first districts in the nation to adopt an aim.  Many factors led to this decision.  During the three years preceding adoption of the aim, Enterprise had conducted a yearly attitude survey, in which students, K-8, expressed their feelings about each subject they studied.  A happy face meant students liked a subject, a neutral face meant ambivalence, and a sad face meant the students disliked a subject. 

The data that was collected enabled district staff to compare the percentage of happy faces by grade level for each year of the survey. In his terrific book Improving Student Learning, Lee Jenkins, who was then the Enterprise Superintendent, presents a graph that shows a slow, gradual  loss of enthusiasm that begins when students are in kindergarten and continues every year thereafter. Jenkins comments that “the data clearly show that each grade level contributed to the loss of enthusiasm.” To heighten awareness of this decline, Jenkins makes the point that if 30 kindergartners enter school together, and two children per year lose their enthusiasm for learning, then only a handful would still be enthusiastic as they finish high school.      

Jenkins believes that teachers are responsible for both learning and enthusiasm.  He considers student enthusiasm to be an invaluable asset that educators must cherish.  Students who have lost their enthusiasm for learning are less motivated to learn, less likely to put their learning to use in creative ways, and more likely to cause discipline problems.  Jenkins contends that typical kindergartners have enough enthusiasm to last a lifetime, but they don’t have all the knowledge.  Educators, he stresses, must guard this enthusiasm, must protect it throughout a child’s academic career.  It is a school’s most precious resource.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s proposed aim for education also influenced the Enterprise School District’s decision.  In 1992 Deming suggested that the overall aim for education be: “Increase the positives and decrease the negatives so that all students keep their yearning for learning.”  He believed that if educators preserved students’ love of learning by removing the practices that decrease enthusiasm and spreading those that foster it, more students would succeed in school.

In response to both the survey data and Deming’s proposal, the staff of the Enterprise School District wrote and adopted the aim: “Maintain enthusiasm while increasing learning.”  Jenkins remarks, “orchestrating classrooms so that all students progress in learning and maintain their enthusiasm for learning is an incredible challenge.  It is, however, the responsibility of educators to maintain enthusiasm while increasing learning.  We must not allow ourselves to stray from this path.”

Next week I will share how I have incorporated the aforementioned ideas into my teaching and used them to establish a strong sense of purpose with my students.

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