A teacher working on her mission statement
For Teachers

Summer Teacher Prep: Creating a Teacher Mission Statement

By Jennifer Gunn June 11, 2019

Ask any teacher “why do you teach?” and you’re likely to get a philosophical answer that calls upon their personal history, their love for students or the content, and their ultimate hopes for their students. But ask most teachers about their teaching mission and you just might find them stumped. With everything teachers do and handle in a year, the goals behind our practice can get lost in the shuffle. Here, we’ll walk you through creating your own teaching mission statement that you can refer back to all year. Even better, display it in your classroom!

Going beyond the why

Entrepreneur notes that a “mission statement defines what an organization is, why it exists, its reason for being. At a minimum, your mission statement should define who your primary customers are, identify the products and services you produce, and describe the geographical location in which you operate.” In the classroom, a mission statement is a little different. Your teacher mission is not about your why but about what you and your students aim to accomplish, the goals for your practice, and the expectations for success. Grant Wiggins, the co-author of Understanding by Design and author of numerous articles on education, notes that many teachers operate without a mission statement, which leads to a practice of “marching through content and activities, hoping some of it will stick or somehow cause some learning.” Instead, Wiggins argues that it’s imperative for educators to have a strong mission in order to consistently and intentionally work toward goals throughout the year. “What a professional educator does, in my view, is to stay utterly focused on a few long-term, learning-related goals, no matter what happens in the way of admin. mandates, snow days, early dismissals for sports, or fire drills,” he says. We cannot operate solely on the premise that “students will learn A or B in this class.” That’s just content dumping without any real plan for how students will show their learning, what they will do with the content, or how they will analyze, be critical, or grow from their classroom experience. Content is, of course, important, but it’s nothing but empty knowledge without the ability to synthesize and apply it. In planning our mission for learning, we must go beyond the syllabus.

Nearly every company has a mission statement that they come back to regularly to ensure that their work is staying on mission. While classrooms are not companies, they are communities. Creating a teacher or classroom community mission statement can serve as a long-term reminder of the intentions behind the work — especially in those middle-of-the-year times when things get busy.

Writing your mission statement

Here are four questions to get you started.

  • What are your learning goals for the year?
  • What do you want students to be able to do at the end of the year?
  • How will you know you and your students have been successful?
  • What skills and habits of mind do you want students to demonstrate?

Once you have these four questions in mind, begin to shape a two- to four-sentence mission statement that encapsulates these ideas. If this is your personal teaching mission statement, use “I.” If this is a classroom mission statement, use “we.”

Editing your mission statement

Now that you have a draft, it’s time to get critical. Start by looking at your verbs and defining them in your statement. If you said, “students will recognize…” explain what you mean by “recognize.” If you found yourself writing something like “students will learn,” go deeper. What do you mean by “learn?” Remember to go beyond content dumping. It’s not enough that students learn the reasons for the Civil War, but rather that they are able to, say, argue that those reasons are still rooted in current debates in this country. What will they do with that learning? Your mission should not be a list of content to be covered; it’s a statement of intent for student learning. Next, if you found yourself writing “students will achieve better results on tests,” go deeper. We all want our students to do well on mandated tests, but consider what those tests actually measure — skills like deductive reasoning, critical thinking, persuasive writing, which are profoundly more important skills than just passing a test. Expound and really dive into the skills and actions of learning.

Useful phrases

Students will be able to…

Students will independently make connections between…

Students will show their knowledge by…

I am committed to… by…

Students will… by…

Students will demonstrate … Through…

Students will incorporate …

Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education, where she has been for nearly a decade. She is a curriculum designer and public high school educator in New York City. Jennifer is the creator of Right to Read, a literacy acceleration program for urban adolescent youth that’s steeped in social justice. She is an education writer and is co-founder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference, which won the New York City Department of Education Excellence in School Technology Award this year. Jennifer regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation. Follow Jennifer online at www.jenniferlmgunn.com or on Twitter.

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