In today's article, we're going to focus on a simple, research-backed method for developing a sense of purpose in young people. As you might remember, purpose is one of the colors on the Rainbow of Why palette we've looked at lately here on the blog.
There's this researcher out of Stanford who basically dedicated his life to studying why some people enter adulthood with a strong sense of purpose and others don't.
His name is Bill Damon. I'm sure most of you have heard of him. For those who haven't — you're welcome. What a heart for young people this man has built in his career. And what a mind.
But today, I just want us to focus on one little idea that Dr. Damon gave us. One little thing that, if he could wave his magic wand and ask all teachers in the world to do just one thing consistently, he'd advise us to do.
I'll turn it over to what Dr. Damon once wrote in this article for the AASA:
One golden opportunity to [give young people purposeful role models] is for teachers to tell students why they chose teaching as a profession, what they find fulfilling about teaching and what they hope to accomplish with their students. The point of doing this is not to persuade their students to become teachers but rather to show what it looks like for an admired adult to pursue a vocation with purpose.
If you've got a five minutes, check out the video below in which I give two examples of what this can look like. If you don't, I'll share the relevant language below the video.
A longer example of what this strategy sounds like with students:
Hey there, students! How in the world are you guys doing today? You know, I was driving to work today, and I was thinking about you, and I was thinking, “I'm so glad I get to be your teacher.” Here's what specifically spurred the thought. I was remembering back in my freshman year of college, when I was studying Pre-Med, I was training to train to become a doctor. And basically, I got to this point where I was shadowing doctors to make sure that I wanted to be a doctor someday, and I remember that this doctor said to me, “Listen, young man. You better like what you just observed me doing because that's gonna be your life.”
It was a very striking moment for me because I didn't really like much what I had seen the doctor doing, and I wasn't really interested in medicine like I thought that I would be. It was kind of like a crisis moment for me because I had told all these people as I was going off to college that I was going to be a doctor, and now I was changing my mind.
So it was a few months later when I went to a Boys and Girls Club in Chicago, and I got to work with all these young people there at the Club, and I just suddenly realized, “Wow, this is really cool; I really like to work with young people; I really like education; I like getting to build into others; I like history, I like reading, I like literature, I like writing. Why not just mix them all together and become a teacher?”
And you know, my journey with teaching has had its ups and downs. Teaching has a lot of things about it that are really difficult, a lot of things about it that I definitely have to get paid to do, but you know what? It's awesome. I like doing it, and I like getting to do this year's teaching with you. So, I just want you all to know I appreciate you. Thanks for letting me be your teacher
All right, now let's get to today's lesson.
A shorter example of what this sounds like with students:
Hey students, when I was watching you all do that reading right there, reading that article during the lesson — I know, I know, we only have another minute left, but please just bear with me — I really got to thinking how amazing it is to watch you read and interact with so many different sources on so many different days all across the school year. You've just kind of inspired me, and I want you to know that I've always been thankful to be a teacher but especially today. Especially today, I'm glad I get to be a
And now, go to it! Make a note to yourself to try this out with your classes ASAP.
And don't be afraid to do it multiple times throughout the semester, in ways big and small.
And finally, have FUN doing it. Because it IS fun to get to be a purpose exemplar for young people.