What is the purpose of school?

By Amber Rhinehart, MYP Coordinator


I will begin this article with the end in mind. So, before you get too excited,
I'm not sure I know the answer to my own question. I am not sure if there IS
even one purpose of school, but I'd like to think that after twenty years in this
profession on four continents and in seven different schools, I *may* have an
idea. Or an idea for now. But that's the beauty of schools - like friendships and
musical tastes and spicy food- there's something out there for everyone and we
come to the table with different ideals and needs and palates.

When Lincoln went online in March of 2020, our students joined 87% of the
world's children in online classes (Miks and McIIwaine). Over 1.6 billion children
were now learning and speaking and figuring out the difference between an LMS
and Zoom and Meets and Teams and Google Classroom and WAGS and why did it
take me four weeks to know that Zoom had a built-in skin-smoothing filter? It
was during these first few weeks of emergency online teaching that I began to ask
myself, "What's the point?" And not, Dear Reader, why am I even doing this at all,
but really, why are we doing this? I needed to focus and pinpoint and find my why.
This was inevitable. I could not change our circumstances of my students being 15
time zones apart from one another, but I could make it a bit more palatable. I just
needed to answer the question: why, indeed.

My first step in this quest for purpose was the International Baccalaureate's
mission statement. We're in an IB school and I wanted to remind myself of their
(our) purpose and mission:

The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and
caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through
intercultural understanding and respect.

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international
organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and
rigorous assessment. These programmes encourage students across the world to
become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other
people, with their differences, can also be right.

And it's the last line that I have always respected and has stuck with me -- to mold
and foster compassionate human beings who are also humble; life-long students
who seek to understand before they are understood. It's one of the reasons why I
have spent the majority of my career teaching in IB schools. How could I translate
this to online learning?

In the first quarter of this school year, in a Growth and Goals meeting with our MYP
teachers on a Wednesday afternoon, I asked teachers to think about their Everest
Statement. The idea stems from when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay set
out to climb Mt. Everest in 1953 they had one clear and measurable goal: to reach
the summit. In a year of disruptions, disappointments and distractions, I wanted
teachers to hone in on the why. There are so many things that are hard about
online teaching. I wanted our teachers to identify and define that joy and meaning
for each of them. I conducted the exercise myself and I

focused on the most important skills in my subject - speaking and listening and
reading and writing. It wasn't until one of our teachers spoke about relationships
that I realized how far off I was. I think I may have missed the point of my own
exercise.

I went on a search, then, for the greater ideal of my class and school and in that
search I came across Vicki Zakrzewski's article "How to Help Students Develop Hope".
She states in the article:

Researchers have found that students who are high in hope have greater academic
success, stronger friendships, and demonstrate more creativity and better problem-
solving. They also have lower levels of depression and anxiety and are less likely to
drop out from school.

Maybe hope and relationships are not the purpose of school all the time. Isn't that
what family is for, you ask? Why am I paying thousands of dollars for my kid to get
a little self-esteem? Isn't school about academics, about thinking skills and problem
solving and ideation and creativity and the development of our children?

I get it. And I do think school is about all of those previously mentioned ideas. But
perhaps we should look to hope as the ground, the basis, what our feet stand upon.
Our students can not reach their Everest, their peak, their successes, unless they
know upon where they stand, who they are, and who will proverbially catch them
when they fall and where this all leads to. In a time when globally, depression is one
of the leading causes of illness and disabiity in adolescents and where suicide is the
third leading cause of death for 15-19 year olds - and these statistics are from
before Covid-19 - hope is probably a good goal to have.

Hope allows us to think of the future - of what may be and what is possible. As
teachers and administrators, we can, and should, lead with optimism. There are
practical strategies that we can employ, as well, from teaching positive current
events to embedding mindfulness in the curriculum to promoting student activism
and leadership. All things Lincoln already does.

As we end this first semester, I wish you all a well-deserved and restful break. May
the new year, in its cycle of restoration and renewal, bring us all a little more hope.


SOURCES

Miks, Jason and John Mcllwaine. "Keeping the World's Children Learning
Through Covid-19." UNICEF. 20

Apr. 2020. www.unicef.org/coronavirus/keeping-worlds-children-learning-
through-covid-19. Accessed 17 Dec. 2020.

"Mission." International Baccalaureate. 2020. https://www.ibo.org/about-the-
ib/mission/. Accessed 17 Dec. 2020.

Zakrzewski, Vicki. "How to Help Students Develop Hope." Greater Good Magazine.
University of California, Berkeley.

greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_help_students_develop_hope.
Accessed 17 Dec. 2020.