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Showcasing Trisha Fogarty and "Mission Statements"

"It was a suggestion from a student that prompted my use of mission statements," explained Trisha Fogarty. "She wanted to know why students didn't have mission statements. I told her that the district has a mission statement and shared it with her, but she wasn't satisfied. She wanted a statement that was written for her, by her. Like many good lessons, this one truly stemmed from a teachable moment."

More than 100 sixth graders pass in and out of Fogarty's English and writing classroom at Southside School in Houlton, Maine, each day. Two years ago, while working toward her master's degree, she was asked to create a mission statement she could follow as a teacher. Her students found it interesting that she had homework too and often tried to help. When Fogarty shared her mission statement with them, her "teachable moment" sparked a mission statement activity she still uses.

"After the first hectic week of school has gone by, I begin class by sharing my mission statement," Fogarty told Education World. "It's a good review for me, as well a nice example for my students. I also share the district's mission statement. We do a bit of discussion about what the word mission means and a little secret agent talk always comes up."

Fogarty and her students begin by brainstorming lists of words that might be found in a sixth grader's mission statement. Some of the first mentioned are those addressed in the school's code of conduct -- responsible, kind, trustworthy, respectful, and honest. Homework and grades are not far behind; then accomplish, commit, and persevere.

"I try to lead them to goals they want to achieve during the year, especially goals they need to work on, instead of what they already do well," said Fogarty. "Then I usually leave them to their own devices. I conference with them when they think they've finished a rough draft, and help them revise until they come to a statement they can live by."

Sharing is an important part of the writing process. Students who are struggling clearly benefit from hearing solid mission statements designed by more accomplished writers in the group. Fogarty keeps a few of the best statements each year to use as models. When the writing is complete, students add fancy fonts and art to their statements and attach a printed copy to the front of their binders. Because they appear on the binders, students see the mission statements in each class. Fogarty also encourages a second copy for the refrigerator at home.

"At first, I didn't send home a copy of the mission statement," Fogarty recalled. "It was something my students wrote for school, and it didn't dawn on me to send it home. Then parents began to ask about the mission statements. Most had both school-specific and kid-general statements in them, and many parents wanted to hold their children accountable for their promises as much as I did."

One of the biggest surprises for Fogarty came in seeing how seriously students took their promises. Having set the goals for themselves, they had every intention of making them happen. "Ownership is a big deal in early adolescence," she observed. "Just putting the goals in writing made them tangible and real. Any time issues come up with missing homework, lack of motivation, or code of conduct, I can refer to a student's mission statement and talk about what he or she promised. If it is not in the mission statement, we talk about rewriting it to include the area that needs work."

Although for some students the mission statement turns into just a decoration on a binder, for most it is something they often refer to. Fogarty asks students to reread their statements at the end of each quarter, to measure their success. They also point out to one another when they stray from their goals, evidence that the students work together, not just with their teacher, in pursuit of their goals.

"When doing this activity, let go of control," advises Fogarty. "Some goals students come up with are a bit odd. You can steer them in the right direction, but to make an impact they have to be the students' own words."

"Be sure to write a mission statement yourself," Fogarty adds, "but be careful. The kids will hold you just as accountable as you hold them!"

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World


Originally published 10/07/2005
Last updated 10/28/2008