FOSTERING PASSION & PURPOSE in your students and schools

12/18/2013  |  Levi Brackman

(This is part two of a two-part series.)

In the last issue we discussed the importance of passion and purpose as students pursue their education. We identified a strategy that would help youth find their purpose, namely the idea that by helping students identify their passion, we can help them discover their purpose in life. That way these students get the double benefit of being both passionate and purposeful.

But as educators we are not just idealists, we also need to know how to practically implement the things we would like to achieve with our students. It has become part of my purpose in life to help teachers and educators succeed in assisting their students in becoming purposeful. With all the demands on educators today — from implementing the set curriculum to making sure that they are meeting all the state and federal regulations — it is no surprise that many of us feel overwhelmed. Yet, when you ask a teacher what drives them to wake up each morning and take on the often thankless task of being a teacher, they tell you that it is the ability to shape a life, to inspire greatness in their students, and ultimately, to contribute to humanity. And good teachers throughout the world are doing just that.

But each individual student is unique. No two people are alike. How then are we to bridge the gap between a one-size-fits-all education system and the needs of the individual student? The teacher is one person. Students are many. What works and inspires one student does not necessarily inspire another. There must be a way to create a student-centered education program within the one-size-fits-all education environment.

The Answer is One Word: Purpose.

If you help a student find their purpose in life, everything else around them, their entire education, their extracurricular activities and everything in between, will be seen through the prism of that overriding purpose in life. The student will wake up and understand why they’re going to school in the morning, why they need to do well on their grades, and ultimately why high school graduation and further education is important. Because without those things, they will not be able to fulfill their own self-discovered purpose.

So what we need to do is implement a purpose discovery program in the school. The question I often get from educators and superintendents alike is, “Where in the school day do we fit in one more program?” And the answer is remarkably simple. Most schools already have career development programs. Most schools already have variations of a final year project. Many schools have classes called “Futures Options” or “Career Discovery.” Often, however, these programs lack depth and don’t give the student the type of direction that is really needed.

What we would therefore recommend is that this precious time in the school day is instead used for the student to pursue a course of self-discovery so they are able to identify their passions, strengths, and the type of a person they are. They then can take all the knowledge they have discovered about themselves and use it to fit themselves into a future career that is really representative of who they are based on their passions, purpose and strengths.

One of the huge disadvantages of contemporary career discovery programs is that tests such as “Interest Inventories” are still used to help students identify careers that may potentially interest them. When speaking of the problem with these interest inventory type tests, it is important to note the distinction between a career and a purpose. Research has shown that it is impossible to give someone his or her purpose. Purpose is something that must be discovered from within. Interest inventories provide students with a career option not a purpose. Most often the students have no idea how the test arrived at its conclusion and must take the results on faith.

What we’re suggesting is that instead of taking a diagnostic test they undergo an in-depth course of self-discovery that culminates in them discovering their own purpose. Such a process would make much better use of the time that is set aside for futures options-type programs in high schools.

There would be an additional benefit to the entire school for implementing such a strategy. The culminate benefit of having a purposeful student body would be huge. Imagine a high school where students come in every day to study because they want to, because they understand how their education will directly benefit them and will take them to the goals that they have set out for themselves based on their own passions, strengths and desires.

Would a school like that have discipline issues? Would a school like that have a high dropout rate? Would a school like that have problems related to drugs and alcohol abuse within the student body? I would think that if those problems did exist, they would be negligible. You instead would have a school that has what we have termed “a culture of purpose.”

How, however, does one go about creating a curriculum that can be used to foster a sense of purpose in students and ultimately a culture of purpose school-wide? This question has been a concern of mine for the last number of years, and I went about creating such a curriculum — one which could be easily implemented in any school. Together with the curriculum comes lesson plans and resources, and an online application, a “Purpose Navigator,” that the student uses while on their journey.

This curriculum is the perfect medium between a taught course and a very personalized, student-centered style of learning. In this purpose finding curriculum the teacher does not act as someone whose role is to impart knowledge, rather they act as a coach whose role is to help the student along their journey of self-discovery and purpose finding. It is true that all good teachers are also good coaches, but during this curriculum coaching becomes their primary role.

Many students don’t even recognize that they have a purpose in life, and it is therefore the teacher’s role to inspire the student, to recognize that they have a purpose and something unique to contribute to the world based on who they are. It is also the teacher’s role to help the student dig deep within their own psyche in order to gain the self-insight they will need to make long-term decisions that will affect rest of their life.

All of the work that the student does is recorded on the online application or their “Purpose Navigator.” The process has primarily two parts to it. The first part is self-discovery, where the student figures out what we have termed the “dimensions of their shape.” In the second part, the student discovers where they may fit in the universe based on their unique dimensions.

In this second part of this process, the student explores careers and chooses those which they feel fit best with what they learned about themselves. They then have an opportunity to meet with professionals in those career fields to further examine whether these careers indeed fit them and can be seen as a potential life purpose. Ultimately, based on their self-analysis and the analysis of the careers they identified, the student will choose one career or vocation that they can see as their purpose.

Based on this knowledge, the student can then find a college, university, vocational school or apprenticeship that best fits in with their purpose. They will then have the wherewithal to construct a solid college essay explaining why they are applying for that particular college or program and how it fits in with their life purpose or goal. Ultimately, we feel, and research seems to concur, that passion and purpose is indeed the missing ingredient of education, and when it is inserted, even in a one-size-fits-all educational system, it can be a real game-changer both for students and for educators.

Levi Brackman is a Judaic scholar, rabbi, teacher, writer, and religious leader who has been active in both England and the US. His organization, Youth Directions, helps young people find their unique purpose. For more information, visit
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