The absolute best path to motivating a human being through the Value belief — especially an older one — is through meaning. Meaning acts like a fusion reactor in the human heart. With enough meaning, all manner of things can be endured, understood, pursued, gained.
With meaning in mind, take a look at this chart, which shows the percentage of Americans who mention _______ when describing what provides them with a sense of meaning in life:
So: what's it mean? It means you and I are in the counterculture business.
The way I see it, the most powerful thing K-16 teachers and schools have to offer is learning. We provide world-class opportunities to master things, our theory being that disciplinary mastery is valuable in its own right and also valuable in all the spin-off good that comes from it.
- Valuable in its own right: Because growing in knowledge and skill of biology or multiplication or reading or computer science expands you, empowers you, brightens you in a way that only those things can. When you grow in mastery of a bunch of disciplines in school, it's like that moment when Father Christmas shows up in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — except you get all kinds of tools, not just one.
- Valuable in its spin-off good: Because growing better as a writer requires that I practice concentration, curiosity, precision, open-mindedness. Growing as a mathematics student can teach me to think more flexibly, to see beauty in unexpected places, to have a sense for order. Learning a new language has social-emotional learning built-in.
There's a big simplicity win available to folks who go all in on learning. When we build cultures in which finding learning meaningful is as normal as breathing, we make life easier and better for our students, our students' parents, and us.
But based on the chart, that kind of culture work is uphill. It's something that takes work, risk, and courage. Hardest of all, it takes focus and persistence in a profession gone mad with distraction and neomania. In a largely inhumane system, it takes folks with a deep hold on their humanity and leaders with a special grasp of wisdom.
You and I are called to work that's one part visionary, one part professional. In every classroom, every office, every meeting.
It's a big mantle. But: that's what it'll take to build remarkable classrooms, schools, and systems.
And it starts with us: our hearts and minds; our rooms and hallways; our interactions during and outside of class.
Best book on culture building, bar none = Culture Code by Dan Coyle. Works really well as a listen, too. Helps me think about classroom, school building, system, family, church, etc. (The bit at the end where he talks about coaching his children's writing team = top 5 all-time greatest endings to a non-fiction book.) And if you've not read any Coyle yet, you're welcome. 😉