Purpose of Teaching

NetVue and Geoffrey Bateman

It was a pleasure to host Geoffrey Bateman as he introduced NetVue to our community, and facilitated some wonderful conversations about connecting with purpose and meaning in these tremendously challenging times.

I believe our community welcomed the opportunity to reflect on meaning and purpose, and Geoffrey closed his public presentation with an important question: How does our quest for meaning and purpose as faculty and staff at a residential liberal arts college help our students lead lives of meaning and purpose after graduation?

I offer a response to this question as a way of responding to a concern I felt–and heard–from faculty and staff attending Geoffrey’s presentations. To simplify the concern, I think many people both appreciated how Geoffrey held a space for us to reflect on meaning and purpose, but many also wondered how we could do this essential work without it feeling “additive.”

At the outset, I think searching for meaning and purpose will indeed add more work to an already busy schedule. The hope, though, is that once we reconnect with what really matters, we will begin doing more of that work and do less of the work that doesn’t bring us meaning. And doing more meaningful work will cause us to feel less overwhelmed and less demoralized.

Importantly–and this seems to be the key point–we have to do less of the work that doesn’t help our students find meaning and purpose, and exercise creativity and radical hope in developing learning experiences and opportunities that help our students on their path to meaning and purpose.

Though this may sound vague and hopelessly idealistic, I offer three links that might spark ideas and reflection.

  1. NPR recently did a wonderful piece on how a 15-minute stick figure exercise can help us find purpose. Try it, and think about how something like this might help students.
  2. The New York Times recently focused on how to learn from boredom. Our use of screens has kept us from developing habits to manage boredom, and this holds us back from exploring purpose and meaning.
  3. The podcast “Hidden Brain” is currently doing an excellent series on communication. As we emerge from the pandemic, many of us are finding it harder to connect and manage conflict. This podcast offers useful ideas.

To close, I believe we need to support each other to find meaning and purpose in our work. At the outset, this will feel like being asked to do one more thing. But if we can get through this initial weariness, then new vistas for meaningful work open for us and our students.