Seven ways to inspire purpose in students during a pandemic


Seven ways to inspire purpose in students during a pandemic


A sense of purpose is central to our lives in the best of times. During COVID-19, it can be a source of courage, strength and resilience.

The pandemic has added an extra layer of panic to the already stressful times that high school can bring. With the future cloaked in uncertainty and no classroom environment to spark inspiration, many students may find their motivation to learn dwindling.

Parents can help their children rediscover a sense of purpose—igniting a desire to learn while aiding them through these challenging times. For more tips on how to nurture well-being and spark passion, check out the WE Well-being Playbook.

For now, here are some ideas on how to teach a generation of young people for the changing world from educator and mindfulness expert Patrick Cook-Deegan

Motivation over marks

COVID-19-induced anxiety can make learning and information retention difficult. With added pandemic pressure, grades are bound to slip. Our obsession with marks teaches students that external achievement is the only path to success. Instead, approach lower grades with compassion, and help kids find intrinsic motivation. A sense of fulfillment and interest will help them uncover what they love instead of just what they’re required to do.

Nurture teamwork

Not many workplaces pit peers 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. With the social and collaborative nature of classrooms lost to distance learning, fostering these skills is more important than ever. This, says Cook-Deegan, would train young people for workplaces where teamwork is an essential skill while teaching them to think about others.

Find a trio of “spark coaches”

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 and traditionally fill this role—but it’s become more of a challenge with online learning. Into that vacuum, parents can, and should, take an increased interest in their children’s non-academic lives, connecting them—safely—with other mentors in their networks to help lead them through this traumatic time.

Take students out into the world—safely

Most learning is being done at the kitchen table right now—not only inside, but away from peers. 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. The WE Schools @home program provides short virtual lessons that include activities and challenges for students to complete. The interactive sessions are taught by certified teachers and are a great way to mix up the routine of online learning.

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. Especially right now, it’s important to remember that getting a B won’t stop a student from accomplishing their goals—and it may just teach them the critical skill of perseverance.

Value children’s inner lives

With the lines between home and school blurred, young peoples’ sense of self is likely shaken. Finding purpose requires knowing your whole self, not just who you are in the hallways of a high school. That level of introspection can be accomplished by making self-reflection a part of every lesson, helping youth make the material relevant to their own lives and our new realities.

Start with why

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 (online) 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.