Have an intent and be intentional.

I’ve told this tale for years and have no idea where it came from (I do know I didn’t make it up):

A king is riding with his men through a forest and they come upon a grove of trees.  High and low, near and far, they see that on the trees there are tiny circles of paint and in the center of each circle there is an arrow.  The king is amazed and proclaims (as one does in such a story), ”Whoever shot these arrows is the greatest archer and, if found, will be given great riches and the hand of my daughter in marriage.” The king and his entourage continue riding along and come upon a young boy with a bow, a sling of arrows and a bucket of paint. After confirming that the boy is the source of all the arrows the king has seen, he reveals his proclamation and takes to boy back to his kingdom.  On the way, the king asks the boy how he came to hit all those targets so accurately and the boy responds, “I shoot the arrow first.”

There are lots of uses for this, but today the relevance is that as a teacher I can be like the boy carefully and forcefully shooting my arrows of knowledge, and then make claim of my great success by being the one to draw the target after the fact.  Instead, I try to plan out my targets ahead of time and then carefully and forcefully attempt to hit them.  I try to take this one step further, adding in a bit of accountability, by announcing my intent to my class (or to other teachers).

I think we hear too much about how important it is to have an intent for a class or activity (or call it an objective or code it as an SLO (student learning outcome)).  I agree that such are a valuable part of course design, but I think we miss a great opportunity when we don’t take advantage of having an intent and letting the students (and others) know about it.  Besides accountability/pressure to actually do the thing you say, you gain partners and some grace in getting it done. I am always amazed how accepting, supportive and agreeable students are to new ideas and methodologies when I’ve taken the time to respect them and let them know something about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Besides getting something done, a strange thing happens: it actually makes an impact.


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