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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Compelling Purpose

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #78

When you read about, and study leadership, especially the topic of shaping a positive culture, the gurus will tell you it starts with defining the compelling purpose.

We’ll often let the idea of a compelling purpose pass through our minds without considering it much. After all, educators’ primary goal is to educate children.

As altruistic as it sounds, there is more to defining a compelling purpose than that. Let’s examine the question, what is the purpose of school, and explore how to create a culture where the answer to the question becomes your compelling purpose.

When facilitating the Strategic Design process, we ask stakeholders to answer the question – Do school systems exist to get students ready for life or to get ready for more school? Then we follow up with a multi-choice option (A) to prepare students for more school or (B) to prepare them for life. After some discussion and often spirited debate, most people will create (C) both to prepare students for more school and life as the better answer.

Let’s take a look at how some knowledgeable people answer the question. The following is in chronological order.

“The purpose of education has always been to everyone, in essence, the same—to give the young the things they need to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society. … Any education is, in its forms and methods, an outgrowth of the needs of the society in which it exists.” ~John Dewey, “Individual Psychology and Education,” The Philosopher, 12, 1934

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and critically. But education that stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but no morals. ... We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” ~Martin Luther King Jr., speech at Morehouse College, 1948

“The main purpose of the American school is to provide for the fullest possible development of each learner for living morally, creatively, and productively in a democratic society.” ~The ASCD Committee on Platform of Beliefs, Educational Leadership, January 1957

“The purpose of education] has changed from that of producing a literate society to that of producing a learning society.” ~Margaret Ammons, Associate Secretary of ASCD, “Purpose and Program: How Does Commitment Today Differ from That in Other Periods,” Educational Leadership, October 1964

“For my part, I’d argue that the goal at a high level is producing students who are prepared to maximize their human potential, build their passions and lead choice-filled lives, participate civically in a vibrant democracy, contribute meaningfully to the world and the economy, and understand that people can see things differently—and that those differences merit respect rather than persecution.” ~Michael B. Horn Senior Contributor Forbes, April 15, 2021

A recent Gallup survey found that teachers and parents consider the following essential school outcomes. A.J. Juliani blog, 9/4/22

  1. “Learning to think critically” (chosen by 64% of parents and teachers)

  2. “Problem-solving skills” (selected by 51% of teachers; not asked of parents)

  3. “Developing students’ curiosity to learn beyond the classroom” (chosen by 36% of parents and 41% of teachers)

I can appreciate these scholarly answers to the purpose of school, but the short answer to the question parents provide is ‘that the purpose of school is for their child to live a happy and successful life.’ When searching for a compelling purpose for school systems, we must ask another question. Is it reasonable to suggest that there is only one single purpose for schools that will serve as the star guiding us to education’s true north?

I recommend creating a compelling purpose through real-life stories about graduates and students in your school. Life-changing stories exist in every school; all you have to do is capture those stories demonstrating how the school impacted a child’s life. As you gather stories, you will see a common thread that illustrates a moral or spiritual lesson. That is your compelling purpose.

My dream school’s compelling purpose is to nurture the best in every child.

​Want to learn more about creating a compelling purpose? I suggest you register for our micro-course, Creating a Compelling Purpose for Your Learning Community. Interested in leadership coaching? Contact us at PLDC.


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