Helping Students Find Purpose

After reading Welcome to the Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst on Co.EXIST I could not help but think of the many ways that his points relate to the field of education.



In his piece, Hurst mentions Warren Brown who left his job as an attorney to open a bakery after “recognizing a problem, cultivating the self-awareness to understand what needed to change, and pushing himself to make the necessary changes so that he could grow.”

After reading about Warren Brown and thinking about what we want students to gain from their education, it seemed to me that those three ideas are key.  As educators we want students to recognize problems, be self aware of the learning process (metacognition) and push themselves to grow. How often do we give students this space though? Often times school is a series of problems or challenges that have been set up by the teacher with little input from students.  Even when we allow for student choice, we are often constrained by the curriculum that we need to cover.  In addition, we worry that letting students follow their passions won’t instill them with the “rigor” that universities desire.  I disagree though. While I am no university counselor, I feel that problem recognition, metacognition and the ability to challenge oneself are key traits of a successful student.  I would even go so far as to say that in my view these three traits are quite rigorous in themselves, maybe even more rigorous than cramming for an exam. While certificates (AP, IB, etc.) and high test scores may be important, what they do not tell you is if the student simply took all of those courses because that is what they were suppose to do, or if they did it with a sense of purpose.

If purpose is the key to creating an economy geared towards good, then we need to start allowing our students to find their purpose early on. As Hurst describes, “we find purpose when we do things we love, attempt new challenges, and express our voice to the world.” To mean, this means we must allow students to:

1. Do something they love

2. Attempt new challenges

3. Express their voice

Finally, the three core categories of the “Purpose Economy” explained by Hurst also have implications for how we view school. As Hurst describes, the three core categories for the new “Purpose Economy” are:

1.Personal Purpose

2. Social Purpose

3. Societal Purpose

To me, those three core categories exemplify the type of projects that students should be working on in school. Hurst says it best when he says,  “purpose comes when we know we have done something that we believe matters–to others, to society, and to ourselves.” This line provides a mission and a challenge to us as educators. I’ll leave you with this thought to ponder:

How might me make school a place where students work on projects of value; projects that matter to others, to society and most importantly to the students themselves?

Follow this blog to learn more about how I grapple with this question next year as part of the Roosevelt Innovation Academy.