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Taking it a Step Further

 LifeKnowledge Spotlight: Q & A with Dr. Kimberly Bellah, Associate Professor at Tarleton University, on Purposeful Teaching

LK: What is the short version of your road to becoming a professor?

KB: After teaching high school agriculture for three years, I was afforded an opportunity to return to higher education as a lecturer and professional development coordinator. Seven years and many experiences later, I decided that, if this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my career, then I’d better get the “license to drive” to stay in teacher education. So, my family and I moved to Florida for a doctoral degree and then my dream job found me in Stephenville, Texas.

LK: What does it mean to teach with purpose?

KB: Everything we do in education accomplishes one of two outcomes: learning is either propelled or distracted. The way we speak, dress, hold our bodies, light the room, walk toward students…everything serves to increase learning or to deflect from learning. As such, instructional leaders must facilitate the learning process by understanding that learning is not accidental. Learning is on purpose. Designing learning is much like conducting an orchestra. Every movement, every engaging moment, every visual aid, every check for understanding must be designed to maximize learning and to purposefully open every student’s brain so that it can absorb the content and anchor it for long term retention.

LK:  How does leadership education align to teaching with purpose?

KB:  Leadership education at the secondary level is not something that occurs outside of the classroom during competitive event practices. Leadership education at the secondary level is not even something that should occur “by accident” in the classroom. True, there will always be those occasions for the priceless teachable moments, but true learning, leadership or other, must ALWAYS be facilitated with intent and purpose.

Character and virtue was once traditionally learned and reinforced at home and in church. For a variety of reasons, character education is far more dependent on the school structure as a means for delivery today. Teachers, especially agricultural science teachers, have ALWAYS taught character and education, but today’s students require overt, purposeful leadership and character education integrated into daily learning. The content they experience may or may not benefit them in their chosen career path, but the character and leadership lessons designed to envelop them will, when taught with purpose, influence their decisions for a lifetime.

LK: How do professional development experiences help teachers teach with purpose?

KB: Learning teaching methods and strategies as a preservice teacher are certainly helpful for preparing terrified new professionals as they step into the classroom for the first time. In truth, though, Kolb’s model of experiential learning tells us that only after we engage in a concrete learning experience upon which we can reflect, are our brains primed for understanding abstract concepts. In other words, we cannot possibly conceptualize how important designing purposeful learning from bell to bell is until we have found out what really happens to students’ behavior when they have eight unstructured minutes before the bell rings.

Professional development is a time to reflect on the experiences we’ve already had in the classroom and to say, “Hmmm. That waiting until the morning of to decide what I’m going to teach thing just hasn’t worked for me. I find all these cool lessons when I look in the morning, but I don’t have the equipment, I lack the supplies, and I just end up ‘winging it.’ The students know I’m not prepared, they don’t learn, and I don’t feel good about the day. Maybe I should try something else.”

That is the time when professional development can make a difference in the way teachers choose to teach with purpose.

LK: What tools in LifeKnowledge Online would be helpful in leadership integration?

KB: What tools wouldn’t be helpful in leadership integration? If a teacher desires to integrate leadership integration with purpose into his or her curriculum, then the place to start is with the Precept Indicator. When a teacher understands the area or areas that are underdeveloped in his students with respect to leadership development, then the teacher can move to the integration ideas that target those low performing areas, regardless of whether it is premier leadership, personal growth or career success. Using the existing lessons in their content comfort zone, any teacher can identify a specific area of leadership education to purposefully integrate into the lesson on a daily basis!

LK: We all take students on fieldtrips and other out-of-the-classroom experiences; how can we make those meaningful experiences? Why would this be important?

KB: Again, purposeful planning helps students be able to articulate a meaningful answer to the “What’d you do at school today?” question. Waiting until the end of the year to take students on a field trip as a reward for good behavior negates the entire purpose for the trip. Referring back to the experiential learning model, the field trip or out-of-classroom experience should always come first so that it can serve as a point of reference for the more abstract, advanced concepts that reach the higher order thinking skills. Imagaine how much faster and deeper learning could be accelerated if students actually saw the process of embryo transfer up close and personal before learning about the reproductive tract!

LK: What is an example of a simple activity many educators do on a yearly basis that could be turned into a valuable leadership, personal growth or career focused learning experience?

KB: FFA chapters and advisors are dependent upon fundraising activities for existence. Perhaps there is a particular fundraising event or company a teacher uses every year and he or she makes the calls for the orders, passes out the information, talks about all the benefits, maintains the record keeping, collects the money, receives and distributes the product.

What would the leadership experience of the students look like if the teacher allowed students to decide upon the timing of the fundraising event? If the students researched the advantages and disadvantages of a number of potential fundraisers and presented those to their peers? If the students developed the sales pitch, taught it to the other students, and then coached them through the process? If the students maintained the records, collected the money, organized, received and distributed the product? What would the students learn – through experience – about planning and carrying out fundraising events, organization, financial responsibility and commitment if the teacher purposefully structured this learning experience with the students, rather than the monetary outcome in mind?


Debuting at convention is a new grab-and-go resource, Leadership on the Go! Take a sneak peak at one of over 30 activities included: Trust Trail.