By Adrin Fisher

Once upon a time, I taught an English “lab” class. I’d have a group of freshmen for two extra periods in a six-day cycle. My teammates and I treated the time as an enrichment opportunity. We (the Babes of English) taught from the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. A best-seller on Amazon, this book outlines paradigm-changing habits of mind that lead to success.

Though I no longer teach those English labs, there is one habit that became ingrained in my teaching: Begin with the End in Mind.

Naturally, we teachers have expectations. At the beginning of the year, we set classroom rules, cell phone policies, small group expectations, discussion norms. Every day, I explain rubrics, display model projects and journal entries, and write on the document camera in front of their eyes. And yet, it’s not enough.

Students should be the prime stakeholders in their education. With that in mind, here are two ways for STUDENTS to set their own expectations.

Vision Letter

Right at the beginning of the year, I ask students to write a Vision Letter.

I first heard of this idea at a High Schools That Work conference in Atlanta. The teacher had all students write themselves a letter explaining why this (current) school year had been the best year ever…dated on the last day of this current year. It takes a bit of imagination to explain (and some fancy tenses to write about), but students write about things they will have accomplished by June. For example, students write about maintaining an Honor Roll GPA or getting their license, asking a date to homecoming, graduating or improving their social skills or winning a state championship ring. Every August for fifteen years, I’ve asked my kids to imagine having achieved their goals in the next ten months.

They write their vision for the school year on a piece of brightly colored paper. I collect and read the letters—adding to my personal notes about each student new information about his life or goals—and file them away until the last week of school. I love watching my seniors pull those bright pages out of their diploma envelopes after they’ve walked across the stage in their caps and gowns. They did it, and they saw it coming.

Mission Statement Collage

The Mission Statement Collage is my favorite opening activity for seniors—a staple in my co-teaches and my dual-credits alike.

First, we figure out what a mission statement is. Then we look at examples—everything from the Preamble to the US Constitution to Starbucks’s plan for world domination (“one cup at a time”). I ask students to think deeply about their lives and who they want to be, but I do it with simple questions like, “If you could have dinner with any person dead or alive, who would it be and why?” Using examples from Covey’s book, we talk about options for their statements: sentences or bullet points; song lyrics; a quotation from another writer; an acrostic poem; a phrase.

Then they’re on their own to set their mission.

And finally, they decorate it.  Using magazines, photos, clip art, stickers, or drawings, they create a 5×8 collage that shows what their mission looks like.

I want them to share these statements with their classmates and families.

To post them by their mirrors or on their bedroom walls.

To read them every day. 

To stay focused and on mission. 

To be the best people they can be.

All of these goals—they’re my goals, my dream for their lives. And while it’s important that I see my students for who they CAN and WILL be, it’s not enough.

The goals that will make a difference—THE difference—are the goals THEY set.

Teacher-friends, let’s give our students the tools and the vision to create positive, life-long habits.

Let’s teach them to create the future they choose.

WVCTE wants you to contribute to the conversation. How do you help students invest in their own lives? Leave us a question or comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Adrin Fisher is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not surrounded with her prep calendars and a pile of books, encouraging and supporting her colleagues, or conferencing with budding writers, you can find her reading with her kids, tree bathing in the park, or taking notes on life in her current composition book. You can follow her on Twitter @fisheradrin

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