The Four Word Mission Statement

Mark Hess

GiftedKids11-29-17.pngHow many hours have you and your colleagues spent agonizing over, sorting through, crafting, wordsmithing, cutting, pasting, and re-writing a mission statement?  Maybe I can save you some trouble if you are a gifted resource teacher working on a mission statement for your classroom.  I think you only need four words:  I love a challenge.

For my gifted and talented classroom, these words pack all the necessary meaning inside—my teaching goals, my kids’ ownership of the work they do, and even the social-emotional lessons inside any good Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program.

I LOVE is both a proclamation and an expectation.  Does your classroom encourage a wiggly open-ended festival of differentiated choices?  Our upper elementary students enjoy open-ended choices as well as dozens of menu choices in order to meet advanced learning plan goals.  You want to learn more about cartooning techniques so you can expand your own series of super hero comics?  Cool!  You want to learn about viruses?  Why not!  Perhaps you’ll LOVE our menus instead.  Can you navigate your way through the Spy Training Academy?  How about designing propellers for WWII fighters?  Can your prototype of a smoke jumper’s parachute float accurately into a wildfire to help establish a fire line?  You’ll need to diagram the wildfire’s progress from a bird’s eye view and calculate the percentage of the area that has been damaged.  This is serious simulation here!  Hold on there!  You can’t flit about like a bat beeping toward a moth in the night sky.  Students work diligently to meet the goal they’ve constructed on their Advanced Learning Plan (ALP).  After that, kids continue to work diligently on other goals once that first goal is met.  We’re never done . . . not really . . . we’re just in different stages of improvement!  We want passions to show, intensities to help gifted students shine:  I LOVE can be played out every day. 

Whole kids—not just test scores:   As a gifted resource teacher, I’m sure you often talk about pursuing one’s passions and about how those passions don’t have to fit inside a classroom.  Many of my GATE students are very academic in the classic sense of the word, but many are not.  We want our GATE classroom to be a place where kids feel safe to be who they are around like-minded peers.  Look, it’s OK to be a little nerdy here, a little intense, a little off-kilter.  It’s OK to be consumed by dragons or horses or baseball or math or lightsabers or even some sort of strange combination which puts all of these topics together.  It’s OK to have memorized the details of every country’s flag in Africa.  It’s OK to want to build and build and build and design and build some more.  Whatever your passion or your disposition or your twice exceptionality, the same question remains: “What does the I LOVE part of learning feel like?”  It feels exciting; it feels engrossing; it feels like you want more and more.  It feels like choice.  It feels safe and personal.  It feels like home. 

Computers 275x275.pngA CHALLENGE is both an academic requirement and a way of healthy living.  Maybe this GATE classroom feels a bit like fun and games, at times.  Good!  We call that kind of learning flow.  You’re supposed to have fun!  You’re supposed to love what you’re doing, and we hope everyone continues to do so the rest of their lives.  We’re not just an advanced learning plan and a graduation gown.  This giftedness is all-consuming and operates on hundreds of frequencies . . . and it never stops. 

HOWEVER . . . if everything is easy all the time, then won’t we forever be stuck somewhere in 2nd grade?  If we don’t understand how to create and connect with challenges, then how will we ever accomplish anything great?  How will we ever make ourselves proud?  How will we ever fulfill a dream?  So many times, GATE kids do not understand what a challenge feels like, or they can become experts at avoiding challenges or cautiously accepting manageable ones.  Well … dang . . . challenges feel a little unpleasant and sometimes a lot unpleasant!  Sometimes challenges feel like a sick stomach.  Then, hopefully with effort and not too much heartache, challenges start to feel better and betterer and best.   In the end, it feels like we’ve earned the right to be proud.  Those feelings are growth.  Those feelings are healthy.  Down in the GATE room, we talk fairly often about these things, and we should never let those thoughts get too far away in any social-emotional lesson.  Our mantra is “Ability is a blessing, but achievement is earned.”

Four words for a mission statement . . . I rather like that.  I think I will delete all those other drafts.

Mark Hess is president of the Pikes Peak Association of Gifted Learners, an affiliate of the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the authors and not necessarily the National Association for Gifted Children.