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  • Writer's pictureAaron Daffern

Take CHARGE of the Classroom #17: Purpose

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

This is post #17 in a 20-post series designed to disrupt outdated behavior management models and help you create the classroom culture of your dreams. This post contains excerpts from my book Take CHARGE of the Classroom.

What’s your fuel? What’s your purpose? If things get tough, what do you do?

If you could say without a shadow of a doubt, if you knew that you knew that you knew, that teaching is what you were supposed to do, it would be a source of great strength. The first step in taking charge is confidence. The first step in confidence is purpose. When you can walk into your room each day with the assurance that you’re where you’re supposed to be, that you are doing what you were made to do, that knowledge would give you an underlying sense of swagger that would propel you through even the most difficult times.

Are you willing to struggle through all the idiocy that comes from central office (or the front office) for the sake of your students?

What are you willing to sacrifice to give your students a fighting chance? Your time? Your money? Your emotional reserves?

What injustices gnaw at you? What do you see in your students or in your community that drives you to show up each morning at 7:00 am, rain or shine?

Teaching is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t fun most of the time.

But it matters. More than you will ever know.

To make the changes necessary to take charge of your classroom and to take charge of each moment with your students, you’re going to need to unlearn. A lot.

You will be asked to try things that make you uncomfortable and that you doubt will work.

These things will work but they’re hard. There are no silver bullets in education, but if you have a solid purpose, if you know why you are a teacher, then let that be the fuel to guide you through this journey.

Because without fuel you’ll never reach the end.

What can you do tomorrow?

Claim your purpose. Write a short statement that describes why you are a teacher and what you hope to accomplish. Think about your motivation for continuing even when things get tough.

Ground yourself. Every morning before school, look into your mirror and tell yourself why you are a teacher. Repeat it again and again until it becomes a mantra.

What does this look like in the classroom?

Classroom tasks are designed with purpose to support student learning by:

· Reflecting students’ cultures and interests;

· Stretching students to reach increasing rigorous goals; and

· Aligning with curriculum standards and assessment tools.


Some students don’t know why they’re in school. Some go because their parents make them. Others attend because of a sense of obligation, as their parents have preached the benefits of getting an education for years. Still others attend to get good grades, focused on larger goals like graduation, college, or careers. A sizable portion of students attend school because that’s where their friends are and they’re social creatures.

So, one wonders, how can teachers steer students toward a beneficial goal orientation, such as learning for learning’s sake?

First and foremost, make it explicit. Make it evident and repeat it daily.

Teacher: Why are we here?

Students: To learn as much as we can.

Relatedness is our psychological need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to be connected to others. It’s why we live in communities, why family bonds are so powerful, and why inclusion in a group, whether it be a gaming club, a church, or other social group is so important. Teachers have the ability to tap into that need if they are aware of its value and how to access it.

Teacher: How do we best learn?

Students: By helping each other succeed.

Students helping each other is typical when teachers place an emphasis on everyone working together (Willans & Williams, 2018). Once students accept that they have a responsibility to everyone else, they learn how to help each other. This shared responsibility, not only for their own learning and behavior but for others’ as well, is the final piece of the relatedness puzzle.

Teacher: Who is responsible for learning?

Students: I am – we are!

The response to this basic question has two parts. First, students own their own learning. Students, as humans, seek control. They need to feel a sense of direction, of power, of order in their lives. In the chaotic world that they live in, oftentimes the only sense of order they can create is through misbehavior.

Additionally, students respond to the last question with a second answer – “We are!” This brings things back around to their communal purpose, to learn as much as they can. They only succeed if everyone succeeds. While there are individual awards in team sports, most players would give up all individual accolades if they could win the championship with their team. Once students view their classmates that way, once they begin to see how they are responsible for their friends, that it’s not a zero-sum game, learning becomes empowering.

They are not alone. They have a strong, beneficial purpose for going to school every day. They have a team of friends that has their back.

What can you do tomorrow?

Cast your vision. Create a class purpose statement with your students and practice reciting it daily. If it has multiple layers, build it slowly with your students so they understand and believe in every component.

Share your purpose. Make sure every student can explain why they’re there and what their purpose is.

What does this look like in the classroom?

Classroom tasks contain clear learning objectives that build student success by:

· Outlining what students are learning;

· Describing how students will know that they’ve met the objective; and

· Making connections to students’ lives and the real world.

To read more posts in this series, click here.

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