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How to Help your Students Find Purpose

Posted By Amanda Leaman, Thursday, January 22, 2015
Updated: Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to Help your Students Find Purpose

By Ann Saylor


By intentionally starting conversations with students using simple questions, we can prompt them to begin to discover their passions and interests.


Young people yearn for life to have significance; they want life to matter. They have energy and a sense of possibility—anything is still possible. One of the greatest gifts we can give students is to help them discover and feed that inner spark that encourages and leads to a purposeful life—the spark that helps them understand themselves more fully and helps them find a way to make the world a better place.


Here are three simple strategies you can try:


ONE: TalkAsk youth questions; get them thinking about passions and interests. You might BE the person who helps them “catch the bug” for (fill in the blank: writing, art, singing, martial arts, making furniture) because you share your enthusiasm and passion for what you love to do. Or, you might BE the person who opens the door and helps them find what truly makes them excited. So, begin the conversation. It doesn’t have to be hard, it can simply be comparing different interests and how much each one matters to you and to them, and why. The conversation can be hidden within an activity to make it fun and engaging.  

Questions you can try:

Is this activity enjoyable to you? Do you have any goals around this? Anything I can do to help? Help them see how they can connect their spark to life; open their eyes to possibilities.
  • If students are good at spelling, encourage them to enter a spelling bee or help a friend study for a spelling test.
  • If they enjoy puzzles and engineering, suggest that they look into “Destination Imagination” or “Odyssey of the Mind.”

Try it by noticing when students light up! 

Watch for situations like these. When you see a student light up, ask pertinent follow-up questions to help them explore their interests and talents.

  • Eric just spent two hours editing video footage and then proudly showed others the resulting five-minute clip.
  • Mary, who has been bored in science, suddenly lights up when you start talking about the ocean.
  • Xavier shines when he gives campus tours to prospective students because he loves relationships and sales. 


TWO: Explore. We can help youth identify their best moments and begin to think about who they are and what makes them tick by creating moments and offering activities to try new things. As you offer activities (field trips, speakers, projects, service opportunities, games...), look for the “hot” spots—those moments where students get excited and sustain that reaction. If possible, offer more opportunities around those spark flashes to further engage young people. 

Try the Sparks Walk activity: 

Have participants sit in a circle of chairs facing each other. There should be one less chair than there are number of people sitting. That extra person stands in the middle and starts the game. Play begins when the circle leader says, “Take a walk if you love to . . .” and completes it by saying something he or she loves to do. (Examples might be “hike,” “travel,” or “play piano.”) Everyone who shares that interest must take a walk and find a new seat in the circle (not an adjacent seat). The person who doesn’t find a new space becomes the new circle leader and calls out the next statement, which must be about something he loves. After playing, talk about sparks, passion and purpose.

THREE: Connect. Once young people have started to explore and discover their own skills, talents, personalities and passions, they need to find ways to put those strengths to work—to create, to invent, and to serve by giving of their talents and energies. Look for ways to connect youth with other supporters and opportunities to further explore and develop their interests. You might connect youth as pen pals, interns, volunteers, lunch buddies, or even virtual conversations. Encourage students to be brave and try new things.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. What time do I dedicate for young people to identify and apply their individual interests and passions?
  2. How much time do I set aside for them to explore and take action in the community—through service, social justice and activism?



About the Author: Ann Saylor, with colleague Susan Ragsdale, is author of Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: An Essential Handbook for Working with Youth (2014), which they wrote as a resource for teachers, youth workers, and others who work with young people to foster their flourishing. The book contains a wealth of activities—all with explanations and many with variations—to help build positive relationships and empower young people by helping them know, appreciate, and build on their strengths. The book can be ordered through many online book sellers. See more about Ann and Susan at


Tags:  [Grade: Lower]  [Grade: Middle]  [User Group: Administration]  [User Group: Teachers]  meaning  purpose  spiritual  well-being 

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Mindfulness & Behavior

Posted By Amanda Leaman, Thursday, July 10, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mindfulness and its implication on well-being

It has long been known that the practice of mindfulness (see box) adds both clarity and vividness to one's experience, and that it facilitates a closer sensory connection to life. In the last decade or so, a number of researchers have been looking at how the practice of mindfulness also helps the process of self-regulation of behavior--and at the implications of such behavior for academics, psychological and social health, and well-being. Self-regulation is, after all, what a number of character educators would hope for as at least one result of their efforts. The beauty in mindfulness training is that it has so many beneficial effects, and so few drawbacks.



"Mindfulness is associated with enhanced executive functioning, better self-regulation, greater autonomy, and enhanced relationship capacities...all attests to the fact that when individuals are more mindful they are more capable of acting in ways that are more choiceful and more openly attentive to and aware of themselves and the situations in which they find themselves." 

(Brown, Ryan, Creswell, 2007, p. 227)


Mindfulness and autonomous action

In a summary statement about research on mindfulness, Kirk Warren Brown, Richard Ryan, and J. David Creswell noted that  "mindfulness is associated with enhanced executive functioning, better self-regulation, greater autonomy, and enhanced relationship capacities...all attests to the fact that when individuals are more mindful they are more capable of acting in ways that are more choiceful and more openly attentive to and aware of themselves and the situations in which they find themselves." (p. 227)


Mindfulness and self-expression

Several studies lend support to the role mindfulness plays in both behavioral self-control and self-endorsed (that is, autonomous) self-expression. Barnes, Brown, Krusemark, Campbell, and Rogge (2007) found that mindfulness had a greater ability to help individuals override or change inner reactions, and to interrupt and refrain from reacting to situations in ways they would prefer not to. Mindful individuals tend to engage in less habitual responding than their peers. It is as if the practice of mindfulness created mental space--more opportunity for autonomous choice--and thus helped one break habitual patterns. Mindful individuals feel more willful and congruent in their actions (Brown & Ryan, 2003) and their practice has been shown to help people in attaining their goals, including academic goals (Brown and Vansteenkiste, 2006). There thus appears to be much to be gained from the practice--academically, psychologically, and especially in the way that the practice enhances the basis of well-being and human flourishing.



Barnes, S., Brown, K.W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.


Brown, K.W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.


Brown, K.W., Ryan, R.M., & Creswell, J.D. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 4, 211-237.


Brown, K. W., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2006). Future and present time perspectives, goal-attainment, and well-being: Antithetical or complementary? 



Mindfulness - A Practice


The particular practice of mindfulness discussed here refers to that developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Clinic at Massachusetts Medical Center. The practice in many of the studies mentioned here began with teaching participants about meditation and mind-body connection, and then having them engage in the actual exercise of meditation in both group meetings and at home; this was followed by group discussion regarding problem solving and daily applications of mindfulness. 


The meditation component entails the attempt to be fully present in the moment. As breaths enter and leave the body, the practitioner attempts to be fully aware of the sensation they engender. Specifics of engaging in the practice may be found in Jon Kabat-Zinn's book,
Mindfulness for Beginners or his CD/Audiobook
Guided Mindfulness Meditation.


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