Friday, 23 September 2011 21:50

Choosing a Classroom Aim (Part 3 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.


Choosing a Classroom Aim (Part 3 of the Series)


After learning of the pioneering work done by the Enterprise School District in Redding, California at the beginning of my career, I decided to adopt a classroom aim for the 1997-1998 school year.  Rather than adopt Enterprise’s aim of “Maintain learning while increasing enthusiasm” verbatim, I chose to modify it.

I felt the word “maintain” was ineffective for three reasons.  First, once students lose enthusiasm for a subject, there is nothing left to maintain, and the term no longer applies.  In this situation, restoring enthusiasm becomes the goal.  Second, if students already enjoy a subject, there’s no reason why they can’t enjoy it more.  I wished to achieve more than maintenance.  At the end of the year, I wanted students to like each subject more than they did at the beginning.  Third, the pursuit of quality demands a commitment to continuous improvement.  It is not enough simply to maintain anything.  Successful teachers constantly look for ways to make every aspect of classroom life better.  Nothing is already at such a high level that we can settle for maintenance.  

Because of these reasons, I needed a stronger, more aggressive word than maintain.  Therefore, I adopted the aim: “Increasing learning while increasing enthusiasm.”  I have maintained this aim ever since.

An aim provides focus and direction.  It states what you consider to be your very highest priorities.  In my case, the aim declares that learning and enthusiasm are inseparable entities and
that our success as a classroom community depends on increasing both.  Furthermore, our aim is brief, making it easy for students to memorize and, ultimately, internalize.  Students will even become eager to contribute toward the realization of this aim because they will appreciate being in a class where the teacher truly wants them to enjoy the learning process.  In addition, the aim helps students discover two reasons why they attend school, 1) to learn and 2) to love learning.  Dr. W. Edwards Deming once said that a successful teacher is one whose students are more interested in learning about a subject at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.  With an aim in place to guide us, we create an opportunity for ourselves to meet this challenge.

An aim doesn’t have to focus exclusively on the concepts of learning and enthusiasm.  You may find that your highest priorities include other emphases.  For example, prior to the 1998-1999 school year, a group of teachers with whom I worked at Anderson School in Lawndale, CA decided to incorporate the idea of service into their aim in order to highlight the importance of helping others.  They adopted the aim: “Increasing learning while increasing enthusiasm and service.”  Whichever concepts you choose to include in your aim, limit yourself to the two or three with the broadest application and the greatest strength.  You don’t want your aim to be a laundry list that nobody can remember.  Less is more.

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