Passion + Play = Purpose


Those of us of a certain age, who are looking at the possibility of retirement in the not-too-distant future, think often about purpose. We typically know someone who retired and shortly thereafter passed away. Or someone who, despite counting down the years until retirement, was completely lost once it occurred. The missing element, we know, was purpose. These adults no longer felt a sense of purpose and it didn’t serve them well.

All human beings need to feel a sense of purpose – and that includes kids. Even young children, who don’t yet know the definition of the word, feel it when engaged in activities for which they have great enthusiasm. And older kids? How much more fulfilling life in general – and school, specifically – would be if they felt a real sense of purpose in what they were doing?

Purpose – having a long-term meaningful goal — takes us beyond ourselves. Tony Wagner, whom I interviewed for Studentcentricity, along with William Damon and Jill Berkowicz, called purpose “transcendent.”

Following our discussion, Bill contributed these additional thoughts:

A teacher can provide students with an example of adult purpose right in the classroom. A golden opportunity to do this is to tell students why she chose teaching as a profession, what she finds fulfilling about teaching, and what she hopes to accomplish with her students. The point of doing this to demonstrate what it looks like for admired adults to pursue an occupation with purpose.

Along the same lines, teachers can interject into the curriculum stories about the life choices of those who created the knowledge that students are learning about in school. When young people hear about the dedication of scientists who unravel secrets of the universe, not only does this bring scientific knowledge to life, but it also provides young people with models of purposeful work. A similar principle applies to every field of knowledge that is taught in the classroom.

Tony added:

The development of a sense of purpose begins by encouraging curiosity, play, and the pursuit of real interests. For teachers looking for a simple idea to help students develop purpose, I suggest that they give some regular classroom time for students to be the architects of their own learning. Many are now calling it “Google Time,” as Google has found that giving all employees a regular amount of time to work on projects of their own choosing has been the greatest engine of innovation for the company. One teacher I know simply eliminated weekend academic homework. She invited students to briefly describe something they were interested in learning or curious about and ask them to pursue these over the weekend. When they came back on Monday and reported what they had done, she was astounded at the level of excitement in the room from every student. You can read her email to me about this in my most recent book, Most Likely to Succeed.

To hear more of what these panelists had to say, clickhere.

You can read more about this topic in the following articles:

“When Educators Make Space for Play and Passion, Students Develop Purpose”:

“Put the Awe Back in ‘Awesome’ – Helping Students Develop Purpose”:

How will you help your students develop a sense of purpose – a desire to make a difference in the world?

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