Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Creating a Personal Success Plan - A Sensible Alternative to Standardized Tests

Though people are very different, each with their own passions, talents, interests, and abilities, in traditional school settings, most students are all given the same path and grouped with others by date of manufacture. At the age where youth are entering college or the workforce, many have never been given the opportunity to find what they love. This is because for many students, school fosters dependency learning and a false sense that if you just keep doing as you’re told, it will eventually pay off...even though there may never be time to figure out where it is you actually want to go. This holds true not only for students dissatisfied with school, but also for students with high achievement like Amy, Carlie, Jessica, Maria  and this insightful Valedictorian who felt high school robbed her of this opportunity. Upon graduation, she took her diploma and hit the road literally and went on an adventure to make up for lost time and explore who she really is and what she loves. You can follow her adventures on her blog America Via Erica. You’ll notice that once she left school behind, Erica had the opportunity to set her own personal goals which she can change and update as she learns and as she pleases. 

Currently her goals are:
  • attend survival course
  • buy survival gear
  • buy a van
  • learn Korean
  • avoid arrest

“School is torture because I am required to spend all my time doing menial tasks, worksheets, and rote memorization.
This takes too much time away from being able to discover my hobbies, interests, or passions. I’m in 10th grade and I don’t foresee having the ability to do that before I graduate high school."
-Adam Ritter, Valedictorian track honors student

Making goals for personal success is something that is often overlooked in school. Your goals are usually defined by the school and look something like this.

  • Go to school.
  • Take tests and hand in papers.
  • Get good grades.
  • Do as your told and stay out of trouble.
  • Don’t socialize unless you are given permission.
  • Get into college even if you have no idea what your passions, talents, and interests are.
Even if this is left off the school curriculum, students can still work to determine their own goals and develop a plan for achieving them.  Ideally, they will have family, friends, mentors, and, if they have time, teachers to support and guide them. At they suggest there are key points that will help  achieve the highest levels of success. (read the full article here.)
  1. Look into the nearest mirror.
  2. Smile back at your reflection.
  3. Positive self-esteem is the foundation for success.
  4. Believe in yourself.
  5. Desire to be a success.
  6. Associate with successful people.
  7. Avoid unsuccessful people.
  8. Do what you are best at and that which gives you the most satisfaction.
  9. Write down a vision of how you want to live your life.
  10. Write down you biggest goal, the one you most want to fulfill.
  11. Study the science of success.
  12. Every day do something that brings you closer to your goal.
These are great points to keep in mind, but how will you bring your plan to life? Joe Renzulli and Sally Reiss who developed the Schoolwide Enrichment Model also developed a great system for determining and tracking your personal success. It’s aptly named “The Personal Success Plan” and it has two main objectives.
  1. Provide a research-based, goal-oriented assessment and treatment tool that establishes student ownership of the value of his / her education.
  2. Support students in their identification and pursuit of social, academic, and ultimately economic short and long-term goals.
The plan has the following components:
  • My Interests -In this section, students are asked to carefully consider their interests and talents and think about how those strengths connect to careers and future plans.
  • My Heroes and Helpers - Heroes and Helpers are people that students believe inspire them, either the heroes who may be famous and/or helpers in their own lives that they may know personally.
  • My Careers - Students learn about Careers based on their interests and begin thinking about the type of work they might want to pursue as they get older.
  • My Goals - In the Goals section of the PSP, students identify long and short term academic and social/personal goals to help them set priorities about what they want to accomplish in school, work, and life.
  • My Plans - Students create plans with concrete steps, activities, and timelines to achieve their future goals.
  • My Projects - Finally, students have the opportunity to complete creative autobiographical projects to help them consider interests, role models, and careers. They can develop projects as the culminating PSP event, or they can use projects to better understand the earlier sections of the PSP.
A structured, standardized plan such as the Personal Success Plan could be used right now personally, schoolwide, citywide, statewide, nationally or internationally to measure student, teacher, and school success aligned to student's personal success goals.  Students could see how far they've come in achieving their own goals.  Teachers could see how well students that they guide come to achieving their personal goals, and schools can see how well they support students as a whole.  

Once students come up with their plan. They’ll need a place to capture all the great things they are doing. My next post on ePortfolios will outline how to do just that.


  1. Some interesting ideas to help students look ahead, but I also think that a student like Adam is missing out if he's so into being at the top of his class, perhaps he is putting himself in the position of not exploring passions and interests. Maybe he needs to attend some college courses or do an independent study of some kind. All three of my daughters were able to explore interests and passions in high school, and then continue to move in those areas after high school. And I live in a rural area.

    Also, it's important to point out that parents have something to do with the process, not just school. I get it that schools need to be more in tune with this and help students look beyond the structured academics and provide more opportunities to do projects that interest them. I agree, let's encourage our students to start NOW and not wait until graduation to live and build the dream. They might end up enjoying their school experience more, and also encourage other students in the process.

  2. Every time I try to move in the direction of giving students more responsibility and more choice to incorporate their passions into what I'm required to teach, I get backlash from students and parents who *want* me to focus on memorization and content delivery, so they can get their 'A' and move on without having learned anything other than "physics is hard".

  3. @Anonymous, I wrote an article just for teachers just like you. The ones who anonymously tell me they know that helping students learn isn't a matter of just doing what is convenient, instead it is about what is doing what is best for kids. Here's the post: Want Passion (Not Just Data) to Drive Learning? There's a School for That!

  4. @Glenn, I have to correct you and shed light that it is not students who are “into” being at the top of their class. It is schools that are promoting this ideal as the documentary “Race to Nowhere” revealed. As a side note, my cousin lives in Alaska :-)

    I agree with encouraging students, but they can only meet so many demands. Let’s face it. High School is a teenagers job. Their employer needs to start reprioritizing.

  5. I like this framework a lot. I wish I could have experienced it in my own education.

  6. It's raining in Nyack, NY, I have a head cold, the National Writing Project could be coming to an end, even in NY teachers could be judged soon on those ridiculous high stakes tests, and I click to you blog post.
    Thanks, I needed this,

  7. I could see something like this working on a micro level in my art class. Even art classes can fall into the formula trap. It would be interesting to have students create a plan on day one and then revisit several time during the semester.


  8. This article talks a lot about "success", even to avoid unsuccessful people. (excuse me?)

    I wonder... how do you define "success?" When are you "succesful"? Is it about money? Or status? It's sounds a lot like snobbery..

    One more thing. Research shows that high self-esteem doesn't improve grades, career chances, love-life, or anything else.. except narcissism

  9. @Jeroen,
    Personal success is decided by the individual. For those who value things that equate to snobbery, it's that. For those who have more altruistic values, it's that. The plans are created with people you respect. Ultimately, it becomes a reflection of what is valued by you and those who you choose to help advise and support you.

  10. I like this idea - for UK teaches it fits in well with the Assessment for Learning directives.

    Do you think it needs changing for younger children? (ages 7 - 13)

  11. A little late to the party, but why avoid unsuccessful people? That seems mean. What if you are a really compassionate person and your personal goals include helping other people?

    1. The answer to that question would best be found by going to the source. There they explain it this way:
      Do not under any circumstances associate with negative people. Negative people are toxic; they destroy, they do not build. They are vampires that can live only by draining the life from others. The odds are greater that they will pull you down faster than you can lift them up. You can choose to stay away from all the negative people in your life. Avoid all the whiners, complainers, blamers and thumbsuckers.

    2. I have to agree that this attitude sounds quite horrible and seems to be an excuse to avoid altruism. What defines a "negative person" versus one that is simply going through a hard time, suffering mental illness or low self-esteem? Likely the message is well-intentioned there but it strikes me as something that can be way too easily twisted into an ideology of selfishness and contempt for the less fortunate. It's not something I would ever say as advice to a student.

  12. I think the issue with avoiding unsuccessful people can be reframed like this: Who should you choose as your friends, successful or unsuccessful people? We are going to be around all types of people as a fact of life, both the successful and unsuccessful. Of course we should be kind and nice to everyone.

    But of those few we let into our inner circle, of those few we ask to influence us, we need to choose the successful, positive people. Business writer Jim Rohn said it best: "You are the average of the six people you spend the most time with." To be successful, spend time with successful, positive people.


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