teaching teachers on purpose

teaching teachers on purpose

If we understand purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self” (Damon, Menon & Bronk, 2003), we need to ask ourselves: Does our purpose for teacher education help develop effective teachers to promote comprehensive and sustainable learning communities?

One particularly useful educational methodology—service-learning—should become a core component of teacher education programs. Service-learning is a teaching-learning technique that integrates community service with instruction and reflection to enrich learning, teach social responsibility, and strengthen communities (Jacoby, 1996). Service-learning extends experiential internships beyond skill development to emphasize effects on children and the community.

Teacher training is an appropriate field for applying service-learning methodology because it shows positive effects on the professional, ethical and personal development of future teachers (Opazo, 2015). For example, beginner teachers who participated in service-learning were more sensitive to their students as unique learners, interacted better with students’ families, and were more committed to collaborating with other teachers (Knutson, Zuniga, & Gonzalez, 2007).

Capitalizing on the opportunity of service-learning will involve teacher education institutions to take a few important steps. First, provide staffing and financial resources to support service-learning activities with a proper institutional infrastructure (Gao, 2015). Second, understand the four dimensions of the purpose model (Malin, Reilly, Quinn & Moran, 2013): [1] a clear intention of what the individual aims to accomplish, [2] why this intention is important to the individual, [3] the individual taking steps to realize this intention, and [3] a connection between this activity and the well-being of the others.

Service-learning and purpose are real alternatives to revitalize teacher training programs (Opazo, 2015) so that prospective teachers and school leaders can access transformative experiences. These experiences, in turn, can improve the education system (Moran & Opazo, 2016). Developing purpose through service-learning in teacher education programs creates conditions to enhance teachers’ practical wisdom, knowledge, skills, and abilities to improve the common good.

By Héctor Opazo, Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain



Bundick, M. J., & Tirri, K. (2014). Student perceptions of teacher support and competencies for fostering youth purpose and positive youth development: Perspectives from two countries. Applied Developmental Science, 18(3), 148-162. DOI:10.1080/10888691.2014.924357

Gao, X. (2015). Promoting experiential learning in pre-service teacher education. Journal of Education for Teaching, 41(4), 435-438. DOI: 10.1080/02607476.2015.1080424

Jacoby, B. (1996). Service-learning in today’s higher education. In B. Jacoby (Ed.), Service-learning in higher education (pp. 2-25). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Knutson K., Zuniga, C., & Gonzalez, A. (2007). The impact of a freshman-year community-based service-learning experience on the acheivement of standards articulated for teacher candidates. The School Community Journal, 2, 111-121.

Malin, H., Reilly, T. S., Quinn, B., & Moran, S. (2014). Adolescent purpose development: Exploring empathy, discovering roles, shifting priorities, and creating pathways. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 24(1), 186-199. doi:10.1111/jora.12051

Moran, S., & Opazo, H. (2016, March). The dynamic relationship between service & purpose. Invited talk at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA, USA.

Opazo, H. (2015). Experiencias de aprendizaje-servicio en la formación del profesorado: Un estudio de caso [Service-Learning experiences in Teacher Training: A case study]. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain.