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Sunday / July 23

Helping Turn Imagination Into Reality

Imagining Student

Contributed by Dave Nagel

Part 6 in an 8 part series:

Student Aspirations QuadrantsIn our last installment, we addressed the Dr. Russ Quaglia and Dr. Michael Corso’s Student Voice and Aspirations Framework™ related to the imagining student—the ones that will talk and even plan for what their future might look like but rarely place effort into actions that will lead them forward. These are students who avoid taking the leaps needed into the pools of learning, growth, and risk that will help them make their talked about desires a reality. What teachers and school leaders might need to do is take advice from Chip Heath and Dan Heath and shape their path.

In their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (2010), the Heath Brothers describe that sometimes we need to make it more difficult to for people to fail. They describe the need to shape the path of ourselves and others when trying to get behaviors to change and/or line up with our desires and aspirations.

Let’s look at how we can apply this principle to all three students below from our last post:

Student 1: Kristen is the student who constantly talks about the medical field, specifically becoming a physical therapist, but hasn’t signed up for any honors courses or science classes her senior year. Shaping her path might involve getting her parents involved in her scheduling of classes. Here is where, especially at the high school level, guidance counselors can play a critical role in helping get kids past talking and into doing. Also, take the lead and provide her access to a ‘field’ experience day where she visits a physical therapist’s office and has time to observe what they really do and time to interview them about what it takes to become a physical therapist. She needs to learn that preparing for this career doesn’t happen in the six or seven minutes before patients show up for treatment—but during the six or seven years before when she is finishing high school and getting ready for college.  Kristen may need someone to arrange it for her as opposed to telling her, “You know you should go shadow someone in the field.”  Making it easier for her to do it and difficult not to may also mean she can visualize her dreams of being in the medical field in her high school classroom alone.

Student 2: “Phil” is the young man who talks about the idea of becoming a structural engineer. He has gotten to seeImagining Student 1st hand what his uncle gets to do in that profession.  This is a real life example I know of (different name).  What the school counselor did was reach out to his uncle who was unaware that “Phil” not only wasn’t taking the advanced math but also skipped the Future Engineers of America camp. Once he was aware he was able to be more intentional in being very clear with Phil about what he needed to start doing to ‘become an Uncle Joe’ someday. He signed Phil up for the camp and took him there. There wasn’t any reluctance at all on his part to go—Phil just needed someone to get him out of talking about it and into doing it—and be willing to take him there. We also cannot look at students like Phil as just a talker and not a doer. “The error lies (at times—my emphasis) in our inclination to attribute people’s behaviors to the way they are rather than the situation they are in” (Heath & Heath, 2010, P.180). Phil is now a junior in the engineering program at Purdue.

Student 3: (We sometimes must help students create their own sense of urgency.) Nicholas is likely more common in many ways. He has plans to play basketball in the NBA—which is likely to not come to reality.  The issue is he is missing out on applying his current level of talent, natural height, and ability to play more on his current high school team. His coaches allowed him to play on the JV his junior year against other schools whose players were shorter and less challenging for him to compete against. This is more likely to validate his erroneous belief that his “God-given” talent or traits (height) alone will last the test of time in the absence of hard work, determination, and needed / aligned efforts. Nicholas often said, “He has dreamed about playing in NBA since he was a kid.” Therein lies the problem. We must move students past dreaming and into action. If we don’t help create urgency by having them see that if their actions don’t line up with their dreams, they may not have any reason to change their current behaviors.

Real life example in Action of shaping students’ paths: In Scotts Valley Unified School District, just south of San Jose, California, they are helping shape the path the potential International Baccalaureates. Michelle Stewart, The Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, shared how Scotts Valley High School provides students in 9th Grade—a chance to pre-shape their path if they are at all considering an International Baccalaureate diploma. Students are encouraged and supported in going through the full application process that includes a letter of interest, an essay, etc. The district’s reasoning is that when students become sophomores, and are continuing to show interest in the program, they may be more likely to pursue the rigorous course work which also includes a great deal of student choice. Chip and Dan Heath would call this an example of making the student’s potential path more ambiguous, which is a good thing (2010, p.53). Because if not, they may likely select to follow the status quo (not pursue the IB Diploma) and continue to imagine about their future instead of aspiring to take actions!

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is
Hard. Crown Publishing (Random House). New York, New York.


Dave Nagel 

Dave Nagel has over 18 years of successful experience helping schools grow and develop their staffs to best meet student needs. For over a decade, he has served as a middle and high school biology teacher and building level administrator. He has also worked as a professional developer, coach, and keynoter for the past twelve years. Schedule an on-site or virtual consultation, seminar, or workshop with Dave Nagel today!



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