Before school the other day, I was called to the office to help with something or other. The bell rang while I was there. When I went to walk up to my room, it was a little late, and I was joined by one of my students who eats breakfast in the cafeteria. This student isn’t a fast walker, but he kept up with me as I quickly maneuvered between and past meanderers.
As I lead this student to walk faster than he would have, I thought about how I typically walk, and how that differs from most students. I walk purposefully. After the announcements and taking lunch count, I explained this to my class. To do something purposefully means to do it with a cause, meaning, or reason in mind. You have a purpose for doing it, and that goal drives you to act a certain way. Acting purposefully is classy.
“To an observer, it may simply look as though I walk speedily, but there is more to it than that,” I explained to my class. I was moving quickly in order to get to the classroom as soon as possible, because I wanted to see my students. It is common for me to walk quickly because I interpret moving from one location to another as down-time; unproductive time. “Finally,” I concluded, “I wanted to model for my breakfaster how one might maintain a pace that will enable him to have enough time to unpack, fill in his Assignment Book Page, and begin a morning work choice… all before the announcements.” They chuckled because the boy from my story is often seen finishing these tasks during my introductory lesson of the morning.
The antonym of purposefully would be “lazily” or behaving as though your task was meaningless. If teachers want well-behaved, classy kids, we will need to make sure that our lessons are full of meaning and purpose. Following this logic, it can be expected that a group of students performing a task that has no or little value, would not do it purposefully. Rote repetition breeds misbehavior. By definition, repetition is UNthinkingly doing something over and over; like a machine. Give students something to think about, and you are giving them purpose.
Also, in order for this to work, students must comprehend the purpose of the task they are given. I constantly tell my students to sit up straight, but I give them several reasons, none of which contain the phrase, “Because I said so.” Did you know that standing straight, in addition to looking classy, promoting health, clearing airways, etc., actually makes you more “Powerful” (Cooper, 2013)? What kid doesn’t like that idea?! Even when I occasionally have my students practice something that might require repetition, I supply a reason that encourages them to try to improve upon the task with each successive attempt.
After explaining this concept to my class, I asked them to come up with their own examples of doing things purposefully. Discussion included brushing one’s teeth. You can just run the toothbrush over your teeth and use up enough time, so that your parents think you did a thorough job, or you can actually brush them in such a way that you relieve them of debris and plaque. Gingivitis is a painful, expensive gum disease that 60% of 15-year-olds should have prevented, but didn’t (Dowshen, 2015).
A funny example that I related to was eating. There was a slight misunderstanding of purposeful activity when a girl suggested eating the right food. I re explained the concept of behaving purposefully, before telling the students that I often find myself so engrossed in my work that I don’t realize my hunger until I am famished. Then I get angry that I have to stop and consume some nutrients. It is irritating because, as an adult, I have to find food, which means putting my project on hold, going to a restaurant or store, finding what I want, paying for it… You get the idea! This takes up valuable time; The time is only as valuable as what it was being used for, however. It is important to participate in activities that have meaning, purpose, and hold value. When I finally have my food, I devour it like a Velociraptor.
I had my students write down their examples and draw pictures of someone behaving purposefully. They also drew a picture of what it would look like if someone performed the same task purposelessly. We had fun sharing those with each other to close the lesson.
Two things in closing: First, sometimes it is classy to walk slowly. The classiness comes from the reason for the behavior. It would not be classy to speed walk through a museum. This is a place where you should take your time to ponder artwork. You cannot do that quickly. Secondly, I am often struck by the paradox that I am supposedly a classy person, who writes rather sloppily on the dry erase board. Isn’t messy penmanship unclassy? Not necessarily. If my purpose was to model perfect handwriting, then, yes, my scrawl would be less than classy, to say the least. However, I am usually modeling taking notes, when I write on the board. I only write what I think students should take down in their spiral notebooks. The speed I use, which prohibits beautifully crafted letters, demonstrates what it is like to jot down ideas while listening. Along these lines, I rarely ever write complete sentences on the board. Parents often complain about their child’s penmanship. This is the last thing that I would focus on as a teacher. Why do doctors messily fill in prescriptions? Is it because that is what doctors do, or is it because they fill in a million, as long as the pharmacy can read it, it works, and their time is used better speaking with and looking at patients? So, parents, would you rather a creative composer, or a very neat transposer?
Cooper, B. (2013, November 21). The Science Of Posture: Why Sitting Up Straight Makes You Happier And More Productive. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3021985/the-science-of-posture-why-sitting-up-straight-makes-you-happier-and-more-product
Dowshen, S., Dr. (Ed.). (2015, January). Taking Care of Your Teeth. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/teeth.html