Purpose Matters

In this experiment, certain terms that we began to use seemed to resonate with the vibrations of a deeper, more universal truth. One of these terms was _purpose-driven learning_.

Not just project-based, but something more.

Project-based learning is a common term associated with many innovative learning institutions. But it didn’t feel strong enough to describe what Jami and I were seeing at Dayton when students were becoming truly engaged as co-learners with their teachers – when they knew the purpose of their learning and that purpose was personally important to them.

But what is the nature of purpose? How might we unleash its potential?

Purpose has three core elements: the center point, the north star, and the journey to try to connect the two that challenges us to become meaning makers.

It’s critical to understand the center point, which is often overlooked. Each of us has a unique center point. This center point is based on our values and has been shaped by our past experiences. It is from here that we understand the world and how we can interact with it. It defines our personal truth.

As I watched teachers at Dayton work with students, I began to see them engaging with their students differently. They were becoming more present with their students, recognizing that each student had their own unique story to tell, and that each story was vitally important.

Even if it was only for a few minutes at a time, in those moments, teachers and students locked eyes. There was deep empathetic listening. There was validation. A validation of a student’s truth.

It was powerful to watch. And profoundly empowering for the students. For in that moment, they felt that there was someone who truly believed in them and in their potential.

This center point is where authentic learning begins. And the Dayton teachers began to appreciate that it was essential to understand that each student launches from a unique point: from their truth.

Then there was the north star – the important aspiration to focus their learning.

By offering different aspirations and also allowing students to develop their own, Dayton teachers were able to launch journeys that ignited curiosity that guided the learning process.

Most students would work in teams, allowing personal learning journeys to be interwoven with classmates who had similar interests.

And then there was the journey itself.

Structuring these learning journeys was critical for students to be successful. It was here that Dayton teachers were able to leverage agile practices borrowed from industry.

Each journey existed within a clearly defined period of time. These journeys were called sprints and the length of a sprint was its time-box, which could be a single class period or two to three weeks depending on the learning aspiration. Each sprint’s time-box had to be short enough to create a sense of urgency that would motivate immediate action. The tighter the time-box, the better.

Each sprint would end with a deliverable from their learning journey that could be shared with the rest of the class. This deliverable created a sense of accountability, for both the team and each of its members.

At first this learning approach felt foreign for both the teachers and the students. But as the students became more empowered, what they were delivering at the end of each sprint went far beyond what they, or their teacher, could have imagined.

And they became more confident and courageous as they entered into their next learning cycle.

Everyone could see and feel this new reality.

Purpose made real, made matter.

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