Making a Habit of Reflecting on (and Revising) Your Teaching Mission

A few years ago, I began a new habit. At a teaching in-service held a few days prior to students returning to a new school year, our principal invited us to engage in a brief exercise based on an activity created by Dave Stuart, Jr. called Defining Everest. The idea was quite simple. While walking around the room, our principal handed each teacher a note card and asked us to think about the students who would be filing into our classrooms in the days to come. He encouraged us to consider each one of them and the challenges they would face in the coming year, even though we hadn’t met them yet.

“What do you want to accomplish with your students this year?” he asked. For a few minutes, he allowed us to sit silently, contemplating this challenging question. Then, after a moment, he instructed us, “Now, in a brief sentence, write your mission down on the card I just gave you and keep it someplace where you will see it often.”

This was a wonderful activity for gearing teachers up to tackle the coming school year, and since then, it has become my habit to create a new mission card before the start of each new school year. I used to keep mine in a small pencil pouch I carry with me everywhere.

Out with the Old

The other day,  as I pushed my card aside like always when I’m searching for a pen, I realized I had not really looked at my mission card in a quite some time. I mean, I saw it every time I got into my pouch, but I wasn’t living those words, nor was I evaluating my progress towards that end I had so deliberately written months ago. After taking a moment to contemplate the promise etched on my tattered, neglected note card, I quickly realized that my  mission for this year’s students was in need of some serious revision! This is what it said:

“Students will gain an understanding of what it means to be in control of their own learning and will grow into ‘change agents.’”

I felt good about that goal when I wrote it back in August, and I still do. But, I just wasn’t feeling that mission with these kids. It’s not because I had accomplished my mission, nor had students actually gained control of their learning or become change agents. Neither was the case. These students just needed something other than this mission.

In with the New

When I wrote those words six months ago, I had never even seen the faces of my current students. Of course, I had been given their data: test scores, demographics, classroom placement, IEP or Gifted, etc., but I didn’t really know them. Since we have met, I have figured out that many students in this group need extra encouragement. They need someone who will show them how to develop their focus and who will help them to better engage with the learning that is taking place, more so than previous classes. These students need to be able to experience trust. I understand better what I need to do to help these students become active learners; and I now have points of reference and insights into how they think, what they believe, how they perceive the world around them, and how they feel about their education.

In that moment, looking at my card, I figured out that while this was a great beginning of the year, get-your-mind-right activity, I needed to engage regularly with my little mission card in order for it to be impactful. So, it’s 2019, the middle of the school year, and I’m rewriting my mission statement for the first time. So, here goes…

“For the remainder of this year, through my relationships with students, I will help them discover excitement in the topics and content we explore daily, and in doing so, students will gain insight into the connections between what we do in class and what they will do someday in the adult world.”

No, it isn’t perfect, and it’s not the 60-second version Dave Stuart, Jr. asks in his activity–more like the 15 minute version–but, I needed to do this. If am responsible for making sure my students grow, then my mission should serve that. There it is. Another new habit formed, just like that!

Now, I challenge you to do the same thing. Grab a card and rewrite–or, write for the first time!–your Second-Half Mission: What will you accomplish with students in what remains of this school year? Feel free to share your mission in the comments section below, and remember,

“Every great accomplishment rests on the foundation of what came before it; when you trace it back, you’ll see one small step that started it all.”

Stephen Guise, Mini Habits

I can’t wait to see the great things you and your students are going to achieve.

P.S. I have also decided to relocate my mission card. It has moved from my pencil pouch to a new digital home as my desktop background, front and center to remind me of my mission each and every day! What will you do with yours?

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