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LOCAL IMPACT

Ever try a spark coach? 7 ways to inspire purpose in students

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LOCAL IMPACT

Ever try a spark coach? 7 ways to inspire purpose in students

BY JESSE MINTZ

Ever heard of a microbial balancer? What about a digital after-life manager? Or a 3-D printing handyman?

Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve never seen these job titles before, there’s a good reason for that: they don’t exist.

Yet.

They’re part of the next generation of jobs, according to trend-spotters. Think it’s far-fetched that the microbes in our bodies will spawn an industry striving to balance internal flora like designers Feng Shui our homes? According to a recent US Department of Labour report, 65 per cent of today’s students will be employed in jobs that have yet to be created.

Educator and mindfulness expert Patrick Cook-Deegan recently tackled the question of how we educate a generation for the changing world for U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

The key—central to both education and living WE—lies in finding passion and purpose.

1. Motivation over marks Obsessing over grades teaches students that external achievement is the only path to success. Helping them find intrinsic motivation, a sense of fulfillment and interest is a first step to uncovering what they love.

2. Nurture teamwork Not many workplaces pit students against each other—so why do so many of our schools? Imagine a high school grading system based on how well students work together, mentor and advise others. This, says Cook-Deegan, would train them for workplaces where teamwork is an essential skill while teaching them to think about others.

3. Find a trio of “spark coaches” Teachers teach because they want shape students, not just deliver content. Cook-Deegan says most people who have found their life’s purpose had at least three “spark coaches”—people who took an interest in their lives beyond school to help ignite and guide their passion. The quality and intensity of relationships in young peoples’ lives has a whole host of positive outcomes, from increased engagement in school and community, to higher aspirations for their future and a greater sense of belonging. Teachers are perfectly positioned for this role, and we need students to look to them for this kind of relationship.

4. Take students out into the world Nearly all of high school takes place in the classroom but, according to Cook-Deegan, students learn about themselves and the world best when they’re given a chance to push their comfort zones and explore (read: get out of the classroom). This is why WE Schools puts such an emphasis on service learning.

5. Learning from failure Many students (and parents) think they need a perfect GPA to get into the university of their choice, so they take the classes they know they’ll excel in instead of taking a risk and challenging themselves. Getting a B won’t stop a student from accomplishing their goals—and it may just teach them the critical skill of perseverance.

6. Value students’ inner lives We tend to draw borders around parts of our lives: high school is meant for learning, students’ private lives happen after the last bell. But finding purpose requires knowing yourself. That level of introspection may not fit neatly into a standardized test, but can be accomplished by making self-reflection a part of every lesson, helping students make the material relevant to their own lives.

7. Start with why This one’s our favourite—but it’s also the toughest to achieve. We need to imbue everything we do with a sense of why (this goes for everyone, not just students). Without one, school becomes a hoop to jump through. Getting to the why underlying each student means giving them a voice in the classroom and a say in what and how they learn. It also leads to student-driven and purposeful learning, where they work hard not because they have to but because they’re interested and passionate.

As if fulfillment wasn’t enough, new research suggests that having a sense of purpose also leads to a long, healthier life. But more on that next time.

Jesse Mintz
Jesse Mintz
Jesse Mintz

Jesse Mintz is a lifelong learner and believer in the power of stories to educate and inspire. He knows everyone has an interesting story—it’s just a matter of asking the right questions.