A few weeks back, I stood in front of my students and left it all on the floor. I spoke about my mission as an educator: “I want to teach you a way of being in the world, how to act with empathy and kindness— how to see others who are distinctly different than yourself. If all that you learn while you are with me is content, then I have failed.” I had nearly forgotten that I had made this statement in a moment complete honesty where I showed the students my true passion and purpose as an educator. The students, however, had not.My team and I had recently started a new initiative— personal learning plans (PLP’s). The first task in starting a PLP is to define one’s purpose or mission as a learner. While introducing the mission statements, one of the students raised their hand reminded me that I had already revealed mine. If we do not first establish a vision and a mission to make decisions by, we will surely get lost along the way. Have you taken the time to sit down and clearly establish your purpose as an educator? As a person? I am reminded of the quote: “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” As we move through the first days of the new year and many are establishing their resolutions, maybe it’s time that we all take a moment to look deep into our own hearts and answer the question: “What do you stand for?”
There are many reasons someone should create a teaching mission statement, here are just a few:
What Will You Teach?
When asked what teachers need more of, the answer usually begins and ends with “time.” There is never enough time in the year in order to squeeze in everything that you want to teach. That’s why it’s important to have a clear vision of what you want the students to leave you knowing. Every minute the students spend with you they are learning something— whether what they are learning is purposeful and intentional is up to you. For me, every day that the students come to school should be valued. Whether it is a day before a break or the last day of school, the day should be used to its fullest potential. If our mission is educate young people, then we should be intentional about what we are going to teach and the purpose behind it. What knowledge do you want to impart on the students?
Teachers across the nation spend hours looking through the content standards to ensure that the students are getting the information that those in power say that they should be getting. Although this is something that I believe to be important, there is so much more to teaching students than filling their brains with content. As I have said repeatedly: “If all I have taught the students at the end of my time with them is content, I have failed.” Throughout history, there have been a lot of brilliant people that caused a lot of harm. I feel strongly that I must not only speak to the mind of the child, but to their heart.
Many of you are likely scratching your heads wondering where you could possibly fit anything else into what you already teach. However, many of us also know it to be true that we spend time on things that we value. It’s important that we ask ourselves: “What is it that we value?” Deciding what to teach, how to teach, and the culture of the classroom will come a lot easier when we are clear about the values upon which your classroom is built.
A Foundation to Stand On
Once we have clearly defined values, we can more easily make the difficult educational decisions that we, as teachers, are called to make each day. In a recent restorative circle meeting with a group of young female students, we uncovered the truth behind what they were truly about to bring violence on one another over— the number of followers on social media. Once the truth was uncovered, everyone got a good laugh at the absurdity of the situation. The students agreed that it wasn’t something for which they were truly willing to fight. We discussed what would happen if they put the amount of energy that they put into this argument into things that truly matter— fighting poverty, reducing pollution, or even their own excellence in education. What are the things that are truly worth fighting for?
As teachers, we need to define the things that we are willing to accept as a part of our classroom. What are the things that we will stand for and what are the things that we won’t tolerate? Beyond the walls of our classrooms, we are being asked to carry out the policies that are passed down by administration. If you are like me, there are times when what is being asked does not sit well as it is not in the best interest of the students. Having a clear set of values, a vision and a mission helps us to make the decision of when to speak up. When we speak with a purpose and with passion, our voices will be heard and we will be respected for it. We won’t always win, but sometimes the win is in the seed being planted in another’s mind.
Even in the Darkest Days
I have recently been reading Real Talk for Real Teachers by Rafe Esquith. In the book, Rafe explains that “everything put together will sooner or later fall apart.” Anyone who has been teaching knows that no matter how well things are going, you have bad days. On those days, it’s good to have something act as a reminder of why you teach in the first place— a way to inspire and invigorate your practice.
Many teachers have lost their passion somewhere along the way. Having a clear purpose is one way that can help us keep our head up, learn from the experience, and move forward. Early in my career and even now, there are days where I come home shaking my head and wondering why I even bother. When I’m able to look at the bigger picture and see the progress that has been made towards my mission, I am better able to learn from the experience and move on.
All of us have at one point or another have considered our values as it relates to education. I challenge you to take some time out of your busy life and think about those core values from which you base your teaching. No two lists will look the same as we all come with our own set of truths. Mold those values into a statement of purpose or intent— a mission statement. Through some soul searching, we can hope to glean some insight into our mission as educators and our vision for the new year. After all, our students shouldn’t be the only ones who have a mission and goals for the upcoming year.