The Power of One Word: A Transformative Classroom Project

Harry Jenness, Jr. has dedicated 25 years to fostering a positive classroom environment at Heritage E-STEM Magnet School. One way he does that is through the "One Word" project, an annual exercise that encourages students to select a single guiding word to set their intentions for the year. This project helps students focus on their personal growth and builds a strong sense of community in his classroom.

Published June 2024

Harry's One Word project begins each school year with students selecting words embodying their hopes and aspirations. Words like "effort," "persevere," "voice," or "lead" are chosen from a list Harry provides. They then create a card showcasing their word, complete with its definition, reasons for their choice, and any images they find meaningful. These cards are displayed in the classroom as daily reminders of their commitments.

"I have been doing this activity for nearly 10 years. It has evolved and grown into an activity that provides purpose for students and allows them the opportunity to use one word instead of setting goals that may not help them," Harry explains.

Throughout the year, Harry guides his students through a reflective journaling process. At the end of each quarter, they assess their successes and challenges. Students discuss how their chosen words impact others and strive to use their words to support their peers. "It's not only something for them but something they can do for others. It’s about creating a community here at the school, especially amongst the seventh and eighth graders I teach." Harry encourages.


For Harry, the One Word project has been a powerful experience for many students. "The purpose or goal of the activity is to see growth in students in a variety of areas," Harry shares. "I ask the students to envision in September who they want to become as a student/person in May when the school year ends. It allows them to have some focal point to guide them through the school year. From that mindset, they select their One Word for the year. It is satisfying to hear students say at the end of the year, the word they selected was the right one for me."




Harry is proud of the personal growth his students experience. "I’m most proud of the growth students have throughout the year and the person they become not just in school but in all phases of their life. There have been some students who have said how much it has changed their mindset, outlook, or connections with friends or family. The visual journal they create of examples showing their One Word in action, allows them to see their growth and progress throughout the year," he shares.

Through the One Word project, Harry continues to inspire and motivate his students, helping them to succeed academically and grow as individuals.