The Power of Shared Purpose

Every day, we live in the tension between immediate practicality and purpose. Sometimes scary obstacles, challenges, distractions, and habits of mind obscure or induce amnesia about our deep purpose. What’s worse, the more aware of purpose we are, sometimes the more agonizing it is to struggle between our defaults and a response that connects with our purpose! (Or am I the only one?).

  • Do I need this kid to grow up loving learning, or just to get their homework done, brush their teeth, and get to bed so I can rest?
  • Do I need my student to experience belonging, or do I need them to put the iPhone back in their backpack right now?
  • Do I need to ask my students to take on solving a problem with our group dynamic, or come up with a solution and tell them?
  • Do I need to get up and dry the dishes my kid is at the sink washing right now or zone out on the couch scrolling through Instagram videos?  

Little moments. Big moments. Small decisions. Huge ones. Sometimes (rarely), simple. Mostly complex. How do we navigate moment to moment, guided by purpose (without beating ourselves up) when there are no correct answers and no way to be perfect?

Sound Discipline founder Dr. Jody McVittie reflects on the theme of purpose

To kick off this already overwhelming year, I asked Sound Discipline founder Dr. Jody McVittie to reflect with me on the theme of purpose – to share important lessons learned working alongside educators and families through the years. The question sparked her to talk more generally – and deeply — about shared purpose in the context of shared power, connection, community, and leadership.

“The traditional way of running families or organizations is where the power is vested in one or two people. Parents and educators justify this structure by saying, ‘We all have bosses. I am the boss in my classroom or in my family. I have a boss, so does my kid/student. That’s just the way it is!’ When this comes up, I pause and ask them how they feel about their boss. The question makes people pause. The feelings people name about their boss are often – no surprise — negative. When I ask them if that is the way they want their child or student to feel about them – they begin to shift how they think about things. 

When I invite adult caregivers and educators to think about what it would be like to shift away from those negative feelings, they talk about what they wish for at work. They still want leadership, AND they want to be respected and included – to be in community. They have a sense of what it looks like and what skills are needed to do it well. They say things like, ‘We need to be able to communicate, we need to collaborate, we need to respect each other.’ As we continue the conversation, they also begin to see that they need to navigate conflict together (conflict will still happen) and see one another’s differences as strengths. 

Most importantly, though, they recognize that they need a shared vision to move forward. In the classroom, this might look like a shared set of guidelines that is co-created with students. The leader’s job is to steward that shared vision – with the responsibility shared by everyone. 

With a shared purpose in a classroom, the educator can lead instead of manage their classroom. They can be human, vulnerable, make mistakes, repair them, and build relationships with their students.

Their students learn from this modeling, and from the routines, the structures, the lessons – and they are also learning by watching an adult working with them to reach a common goal. They implicitly understand – and experience — that indeed, we are in it together, that their voice and contributions are valued. That is how they learn that they are now and can always be resourceful, contributing members of their communities. That they themselves are indeed leaders.”

That helps. To be reminded that most of us were not raised or trained with this model of shared power or empowered through shared vision.

I can’t always trust my defaults. So how do I slow down and notice when I feel like I am supposed to have all the answers, fix the problem, or get something done fast? Especially in the most challenging times, when the stress is high, and the urgency is constant, how do I ground myself in purpose? How do I lead from a shared vision? If this is resonating with you at this moment, know you are not alone.

Right now, at Sound Discipline, we are in this conversation with you. Shared norms. Shared vision. Shared values. Renewal of purpose.

We envision a world where children know they belong and can learn and thrive. We come alongside people with a shared purpose of equitable learning communities, offering knowledge, models, tools, and examples of what this looks like in practice as individuals and as communities. Thank you for walking and learning along with us.

Andrea John-Smith is the Executive Director of Sound Discipline



Sound Discipline is working for a world where children know they belong and can learn and thrive.

We partner with educators, organizations, and families to transform schools into equitable learning communities.

We bring together science-based, trauma-informed, restorative, and Positive Discipline practices to facilitate change in the ways adults see and respond to students.

Courageous Educators:
We facilitate school leaders and educators to build classroom communities and model an inclusive culture school-wide that promotes student agency and well-being.

Equitable School Systems:
We coach administrators and educators to use data to identify and implement solutions that address damaging systemic patterns of inequity that target Black and brown students.

Connected Families:
We train and coach families and caregivers in a child’s life to apply solution-oriented practices that instill critical social emotional life skills.