A Meaning-Centered approach is needed throughout the education system. Educational researcher Michael Fullan states, “New meaning must be evident at every level of the system, but if it is not done at the level of the student, for the vast majority of students, all is lost.” (The New Meaning of Educational Change, 5th ed.) He claims that the future depends on deep engagement at the teacher and student levels.
Unfortunately, Gallup research reports teacher disengagement levels at nearly 70%, and a whopping 93% reportedly fall into the high-stress category. Teachers report higher than average mental and physical health issues. This week, the US Surgeon General issued a public health advisory on challenges facing the mental health needs of our youth.
It appears that Mr. Fullan was correct in ascertaining that meaning is needed at every level. Engaged teachers report higher levels of purpose and well-being. Research also reports that when adolescents experience meaning they report higher levels of happiness. The meaning that students report is often tied to their level of engagement and the sense of relatedness they experience within their schools.
Educational leaders can support the health and well-being of all stakeholders by starting with a focus on engagement and building trusting relationships throughout the school. Empowering teachers with autonomy, support, and shared leadership can further deepen opportunities for teachers to find meaning in their work.
The meaning-making process provides teachers with the well-being and optimism needed to guide their students. As Timothy D. Kanold says in his book Heart, “engagement at every level has the potential to make the greatest difference.” And Mr. Fullan offers, “Meaning is motivation; motivation is energy; energy is engagement; engagement is life. Life is pursuing meaningfulness while we are on this earth.”
Meaning-Centered Leadership provides a framework to guide educators in the process of engaging, empowering, and developing the expertise of their staff, faculty, and students. Without a clear framework and focus on building meaning throughout the schoolhouse, all may indeed be lost.