To Improve High School, Collaborate with Students

This summer I had an incredible opportunity to work with three talented students from Quest Forward Academy in Santa Rosa. The students — Madison, Zachary, and Nathaniel — joined us as interns to help develop a new goal setting experience for Quest Forward Learning students. Their insights and hard work were highly valuable in developing usable tools for themselves and their peers to use this year, empowering their own success.

This kind of collaboration is critical for the success of Opportunity Education, Quest Forward Learning, the Quest Forward Academies, and most importantly, the students we serve. And, collaborating with students like them — as well as mentors, counselors, and other school staff — is part of what I love most about my job.

Listening and Learning: Setting Ourselves Up for Success

Our goal this summer was to create tools to help students set and achieve personal goals related to the 6 Essential Habits. Setting and achieving goals is challenging for most adults, let alone teenagers. As we started this work together, student interns provided four valuable insights on how their peers tend to work and how these tools could be successful:

  1. Some students really like setting goals and already do this kind of work, while other students don’t. Some will need help with motivation.
  2. The interns suggested that goals need to be about something each student cares deeply about — a meaningful goal they have for themselves.
  3. Goal setting activities need to be accessed in a different format than typical school work. 
  4. We need to set aside time in the school day for setting, reflecting upon, and discussing habit goals.

Early in the summer, we developed a variety of materials aligned to these ideas. Several effective solutions emerged, including writing prompts to set goals.

A screenshot of a goal-setting prompt worksheet asks participants to set a goal, identify which Essential Habit the goal will help them practice, and why the goal is personally important to them.
Using prompts like these, we identified meaningful goals that also supported Essential Habit development.

Iterating and Improving

At the end of each week we reflected on our progress. To reflect, we used prompts like, “What actions have you taken to achieve your goal?” and “Describe a win: something good that happened as you worked on this goal, an improvement you noticed, or something interesting you discovered.”

Each week, the interns and I set our own goals, using the materials we were developing. We helped one another come up with challenging, yet realistic goals. For example, I set a goal of meditating at least 3 minutes daily to practice the Manage Yourself habit. The interns worked on taking breaks during the day, reflecting on things they are grateful for, and getting more sleep. They even worked on changing negative thoughts (no easy feat to accomplish!).

A hand-drawn badge is in a bright purple shield shape, with a gold star at the top, a stylized G in the center, and a spectrum of colorful circles within the letter G.
Zachary designed the “Grand Badge.” Students earn it by achieving one goal related to each of the 6 Essential Habits.

We considered several approaches for motivating students and celebrating successes. Ultimately, everyone found the idea of a system of achievement badges to be effective. Badges can help to give students something fun to strive for, and provide a welcome celebration for met goals. They can help to ensure that the activities feel less like routine school work and more like personal development.

I was amazed at how insightful these interns were! They sought to make something that could work for all students, not just the few that like having goals. 

Each week we modified the goal and reflection prompts we were using based upon what we learned the week before. We re-phrased some questions and deleted a few prompts that ended up not being all that useful.

Expanding Upon the Students’ Work

“During my internship, not only did I get a behind-the-scenes look at how an idea turns into a working product, but I was able to be a part of that process and use my knowledge as a student to create more practical and engaging experiences for my peers.”

— Madison, Student Intern

The work we did this summer has led to an exciting plan for Quest Forward Academy students this fall. Students at both Academies are setting goals using the prompts we created this summer. The initial set of badges is expanding into an entire badging system for the Pathways Program. The Pathways Program helps students explore and pursue different college and career paths and practice work and life skills, such as the Essential Habits.

There is no better way to improve Quest Forward Learning than by asking students what works for them and what they need to be more successful. Then, listen and learn. I look forward to our next project, focused on course goals, and many more student collaborations in the future.

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