Creating a sense of purpose at school

May 23, 2019 |

By Courtney Dickinson

I read an insightful piece in the Boston Globe this week on the link between happiness and having a sense of purpose. Simply put, people with a sense of purpose live longer, happier, and more productive lives. It’s a topic that’s very close to my heart, and in fact, one of the main reasons I founded Acera ten years ago. While the author focuses on adults in her opinion piece, it is very relevant to children as well.

Enabling children and adolescents to uncover and act with a sense of purpose, as part of their school experience, is a critical capacity that I believe our educational system can unlock.  

Habits of mind – like engaging in activities that tap one’s intrinsic drive – develop early.  Sadly, norms frequently present in our schools – in which students are asked to comply with task execution without input into what they are doing or belief in why the work matters – may unwittingly create habits of unhappiness.

Learning to tap into one’s own intrinsic motivation is a capability children can start practicing in elementary school. How? Schools can engage students in inquiry-driven projects, especially in topics they choose and around ideas they initiate.  

When students are given opportunities to pursue an interest and nourish their curiosity, this validates their internal drive to engage authentically at school, and creates a runway for them to make contributions which increase their sense of themselves as capable and valuable.

Habits of inquiry, opportunities to choose, and chances to initiate projects empower students to develop agency within their school community, patterning habits for life. The result – greater student well-being, intrinsic motivation, and authentic engagement at school – should be part of a dashboard against which all schools measure success.

Acera’s Education Innovation Initiative (AceraEI) is actively working to give public schools the tools they need to build this new atmosphere of learning, as well as determine its success by measuring students’ happiness and sense of belonging and purpose at school.