I intend to…because…

As teachers we hear questions like this all day long…

“Can I work on writing?”

“Can I read a book?”

“Can I sketch in my art journal?”

“Can I use markers?”

“Can I go to the library?”

“Can I go get a set of headphones?”

We, the teachers, are constantly evaluating and making decisions for the students. We are doing all of the work and answering the questions with only part of the information. What if, instead, we taught our students to use,  “I intend to…because…”

What difference would it make? Keep reading. It is powerful.

“I intend to work on writing because I am almost finished my book and I really want to get it done to show my mom. I’ve been telling her about it every day.”

“I intend to read a book because I am really nervous about the swimming competition after school today and reading will calm me down.”

“I intend to sketch in my art journal because I want to practice drawing a mouth before I draw the mouth on my portrait. Every time I draw mouths I don’t like them. I need to figure out how to draw them.”

“I intend to use markers because the colours will stand out. The light in space is so bright, I think markers will  be better than pastels for this picture.”

“I intend to go to the library to get the next book in the series because the librarian told me it just arrived and I am so excited! I’ve been waiting a month for it!”

“I intend to get a set of headphones to listen to this video and I don’t want to disturb anyone else. Jack told me that this video had a lot of information about Kepler 186f, and I really want to know more about why it might be habitable.”


“I intend to…because…” is so powerful for many reasons. Here are a few:

  • The students are pro-active and take ownership of their learning, totally engaged
  • The students, not the teacher, think through and assess the reasons why they are choosing to do something
  • The teacher learns a lot about each student as they give their reasons for choosing a learning intention, their reasons are a segue into what they are thinking about and what is important to them
  • The students develop skills of self-management, critical thinking, evaluation, informed choices, and speaking with confidence

I intend to...

 “I intend to…” does not give a free ticket to do whatever.  For example, here is a possible scenario:

student: “I intend to play this Maths game because it is fun and I like it.”

teacher: “Tell me about what you are learning in the game.”

student: “I have to answer multiplication questions.”

teacher: “Is this a skill that you need to work on some more?”

student:”No, I know all the multiplication facts to 100 already! The game is easy! I always win!”

teacher: “So tell me about what you are learning in the game.”

student: “Hmm. I think I would learn more in the game about division. I still need practice with that.”

teacher: “Okay.”

If you, the teacher, are not convinced with the intention, probe (and guide) some more…

“Tell me more about the learning you will be doing.”

“Tell me about your plans to be safe.”

“Tell me about your plans to finish the assignment by tomorrow.”

“Tell me about your plans to…”

“Did you know that you could find out more about X by asking/by reading/by looking at Y?”

Asking the students to state their intentions sends the powerful message that we assume they are capable to make learning decisions. (see previous related post here)

We can teach our students to take control, contribute their full intellectual capacity and become healthy and happy leaders.

What do you intend to do?

(This post was inspired by David Marquet in his book Turn the Ship Around!)

(All examples of ‘intentions’ above were taken from the students in my Grade 4 class.)


The Power to Choose

We gather most of our knowledge from others. Some of it we get from first hand experience, but mostly we listen to others or read books written by others and learn from them.

You've Got To Read This Book!I learn so much from books, I usually find the best books through recommendations from others. So I was excited when I found You’ve Got to Read This Book! by Jack Canfield and Gay Hendricks while I was browsing in the school library. It is a series of short essays written by 55 people who tell the story of a book that changed their life. A book about great books and the life lessons the readers took from them.

For example, Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit: from Effectiveness to Greatness) cites two books: A Guide for the Perplexed by E.F. Schumacher and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl as life changing reads. Both books taught him about the power to choose your response to any given set of circumstances and the ability to be self-aware.

We are not simply the sum of our experiences; we can reflect on those experiences and how they interact, and then make a choice based on that awareness.

Covey says that this lesson had a tremendous impact on his teaching, writing and his personal life, including raising his nine children. He realized that we always have the power of choice. “Each of us is responsible for our part of the equation, so we don’t blame anyone else for our situations.”

In the classroom we can teach our students about their power. When a child responds by blaming another child (e.g. “She did this and this to me.”) we can ask, “Why did you choose this response to that?”

Being Self-Aware

Once the child realizes that she has the power to choose her response, she can use her R and I: resourcefulness and initiative. Using our inner resources and creativity is the only way to respond to the challenges we face in our lives. It is a gift of our self-awareness.

Teaching our students that they are responsible for their responses and their learning is the best education we can give them. Our goal should be to help them “gain a level of mastery over themselves, not just academically but also in terms of getting exercise, eating right and living by their consciences.”

Even at a young age children can learn that they have the power to choose their response; they are creative, resourceful and can take initiative.

How can we innovate our schools to help all students understand that they have the power and the responsibility to choose to learn, to design, to create, and to take initiative?

Driving the Teachers

Passion-based learning, Genius Hour (or Google ‘80/20’ time), project based learning and design thinking, all autonomous learning models, are creating a wave around the world in schools, allowing students time to decide what they explore, what they create and what they share.

If variations of this model are proven effective in developing creative thinking and innovations both in businesses and with students, what about implementing this model with our teachers?

Without worrying about the logistics of it at this moment, imagine having a day a week to explore, create and share whatever you wanted to.

In Daniel H. Pink’s book, Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he gives examples of businesses (e.g. 3M, Google, Herman Miller, Atlassian, Best Buy, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo!, Georgetown University Hospital) that have successfully used the autonomy over task motivational approach to work. Some of the most innovative and successful ideas have emerged from these periods of experimental learning. Examples are: Post-it notes, Gmail, Google News, Google Translate.Drive, p.95

If a school’s definition of success is the positive effect on student learning, how could we measure the ‘success’ of teacher 80/20 time?

Perhaps we wouldn’t be able to measure it immediately in student test results.

Perhaps the research projects undertaken by teachers would change a number of school programs and policies.

Perhaps teachers would read and write blogs, make something, participate in discussions and video chats, and innovative practices would be shared around the world.

Perhaps teachers would become models of intrinsic motivation and creative and clear thinking.

Perhaps, think about this one, perhaps very privileged schools have a responsibility to take a lead role in innovative educational practices to develop the post-industrialization educational model.

Perhaps, to lead the students, we must start with the teachers.

innovation is not expensive

Release the energies!

And, perhaps my last post of connecting the idea of philanthropy to our students (inspired again by Jacqueline’s Novogratz’s book The Blue Sweater). John Gardner, while giving advice to Novogratz, continued:

“Finally,” he continued, “philanthropists should find innovations that release the energies of people. Individuals don’t want to be taken care of — they need to be given a chance to fulfill their own potential. Too many projects create dependence that helps no one in the long run.”

Doesn’t that sound exactly like school?! Our students don’t want to be taken care of (worksheets, highly structured lesson plans and graded activities), they want to and need to be given a chance to engage, discover their potential and fulfill it.

Let’s not be afraid to release the energies!

Take the time to listen

Following up on my last post about connecting with the book The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz, I love the advice Novogratz’s mentor, John Gardner, gave her: (remembering, again, to substitute the word  ‘student‘ for ‘philanthropist‘):

“The one most important skill to teach is listening. If philanthropists don’t first listen they will never be able to address issues fully because they will not understand them.”

In her final chapter, Novogratz lists the most important things she has learned over the last 30 years. She said that people will almost always tell you the truth if you take the time to listen. If you don’t take the time, they will tell you what they think you want to hear.

Do we teach our students to listen? Not just to hear, but to listen, to question, to understand. How can we and our students become part of the solution if we don’t truly understand the problem.

Our Students, Our Philanthropists

Recently I read a post by  George Gouros who wrote,

“I haven’t had the time to read anything, and usually through reading, I am inspired to write.”

This resonated with me.  I, too, find that I often start discussions with, “This reminds me of the book I’m reading…” or “I read something interesting…” It seems that I find connections to education in almost everything I read. Through reading I am inspired to talk deeply with others.

Lately, I have been reading the fascinating book by Jacqueline Novogratz, The Blue Sweater. Novogratz was asked by the Rockefeller Foundation to evolve philanthropy. To use their money to make a difference. As I read, I realized that our students are the philanthropists of our world. Their potential is their wealth, and they are overflowing with potential. Read the following excerpt from The Blue Sweater. As you read, insert ‘students‘ for ‘philanthropists‘.

“What kind of programme can you create that would provide not only skills but also a spectrum of experiences that will enable philanthropists to understand issues and see themselves as part of the solution.

We would train a core of philanthropists and provide them with the skills, knowledge and networks needed to tackle tough problems. We knew our effort would be global, we would dive into many different issues and explore what had worked historically as well as what might be needed for the future.”

We need to create an educational environment for our class of philanthropists in which they see themselves as part of the solution. 

By Jacqueline Novogratz
By Jacqueline Novogratz