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Nurturing Shared Purpose

All relationships are built on some kind of shared purpose. In schools and classrooms, we have the potential to develop lengthy connections that anchor students and families in the pursuit of learning. But the shared purpose of learning needs more specificity.  What kind of learning are we prioritizing? How do we want to work together? How messy can our process be? What support can we anticipate, and how do we access it? In other words, what commitments are we making to each other about how we will achieve our shared goals?

Fleshing out the shared purpose of a group needs to be a collaborative activity, though teachers typically lead this effort with their students. At the beginning of the year, it’s easier for teachers to be more explicit (and to feel energized and hopeful!) about the kind of learning environment they hope the class will create together, but cultivating this purpose doesn’t always get yearlong attention. 

The midpoint of the year is a great time to return to the purpose we set out with and reflect on how it’s going, deciding if we need to change anything. For instance, if we have defined goals to meet at the middle of the year, we can take stock of how close or far we are from them and then decide if processes need to change to support the work. Some of our most important questions will revolve around how we engage in work together and make us ask ourselves, How are our classroom relationships? Are we working together effectively? Are the ways we speak to each other echoing our beliefs about everyone’s capacity? Are we learning new information in a way that works for everyone? Am I helping or hindering my classmates?

Here are a few activity ideas to get your class evaluating how they’re working toward their shared purpose:


-Think-Pair-Share: Using some of the questions above to start their thinking, ask students to consider what’s working for them individually and what isn’t. Have students share with another student nearby before bringing the class together to see what trends emerge. If you have a written document of agreements to update, make sure to have that visible and handy.


-Draw it out: Ask students to illustrate a time in the class where they felt like the learning was going well. Then, have students share in small groups, highlighting different moments that worked, sharing why they were successful. Debrief what you learned as a class.


-Passing notes: Give each student an index card, asking them to write a favorite learning moment on it anonymously. Have students write why it stands out to them before folding it in half. Collect the cards and redistribute them, going around the room and having a different student read each example aloud. Then, lead the students in a reflection of what they noticed about the examples.


-Superpowers: In small groups, ask each student to list the names of their peers and then write one learning superpower each group member has. Collect them and review the list over the course of an evening. The following day, share them publicly, making sure each student has at least a couple of ways to think about how they help the class do its work.


Asking students how learning is going for them is a powerful tool to help teachers and classes refine their processes, making them more inclusive and reflective. Expect and accept critical feedback when students offer it in any of these formats; while you may ask them to consider their successes, you’ll often also hear about shortcomings or times that missed the mark. If you’re open to receiving those moments, you’ll be better poised to guide the learning for the rest of the year.



Do you have other reflective activities that help students unpack how they’re working toward their shared purpose? Tell us! We’d love to share them.

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