3 Ways to Implement “Student-Defined” Success

Written by Kayla Smith

July 19, 2021

Why does your school want more student enrollments? This question may seem preposterous. Why wouldn’t you want more enrollments? Student enrollments keep your school open, provide the funding for staff and resources, and grow your school community. But beyond that, the motive behind increasing enrollments should be student success. Meeting your enrollment goals means your school can help more students succeed. 

So, if student success is the goal, how is your school defining what success looks like for students? Success is “the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose.” Often, schools will end up determining what students’ desired aim or purpose should be. Do not be mistaken; Schools should set high expectations of their students and push towards specific goals such as college readiness, improvements in test scores, or mastery over the subject matter. However, to truly mold learners into future leaders, students also must learn to define what success looks like for themselves. Student-defined success helps relieve some of the pressure of learning and instead instigates a love for it. Here are three effective ways educators have found to get students to focus on the learning process and foster self-defined success. 


#1: De-emphasize The Grade 

One of the best ways to start implementing student-defined success is to emphasize the learning process, not solely the grade. Though grades serve a purpose in communicating academic progress to students, families, and postsecondary institutions in a clear and consistent manner, over-emphasizing scores can diminish students’ learning. When students become hyper-focused on a grade, they can miss out on learning the material for their benefit. Educator Sarah Schroeder notes that supporting expert learning means the focus must shift from the final product to the learning process. Schroeder explains how educators can help students achieve this through increased flexibility, support, and fostering an attitude for continuous improvement. By shifting the focus, students can start to determine their success based on their effort or improvements, rather than the grade associated. Assistant Head of Middle School Crystal Frommert provides practical ways to implement this in the classroom such as adjusting teachers’ language, offering retakes, and allowing self-grading. Frommert notes how students can take greater ownership of their learning and counteract some of the negative effects of grading when given the opportunity to self-assess. These simple changes allow for more accurate, collaborative, and less stressful grading, therefore fostering an environment where learning can truly be the focus. While the importance of meeting academic standards should not be undermined, de-emphasizing grades can make a notable difference for students when it comes to defining and evaluating their success.

#2: Build a Community Dedicated to Learning

Helping students define success for themselves also requires building a positive community shaped around a common dedication to learning. Understanding what success means to them requires students to grasp the importance of their education. Educator Henry Seton implements a simple yet profound ritual in his classroom to foster community and reignite motivation. In what he refers to as “daily dedications,” one student a day dedicates their learning to someone special in their life through a quick 30-60 second presentation. Seton notes how this simple activity reminds students that learning alongside one another should not be taken for granted. According to Seton, this daily routine can even catalyze stronger work from students. Whether done through daily dedication or another effective method, it is vital students have the opportunity to find value in their schoolwork and consider how it is shaping them into better people and leaders. Framing learning as something worthy of dedication helps drive student success in meaningful ways to the student. It also helps students recognize the impact of a positive community on their outlook on education.

#3: Journal Goal-Setting and Progress

As a well-known practice in the education sector, goal setting is instrumental in implementing student-defined success in the classroom. To make the most out of goal-setting, have students consistently monitor and track their goals throughout the year through journaling. Professor of Psychology Maurice J. Elias notes how journaling goal progress becomes an authentic activity for students once they realize their true potential. When students journal their progress along the way, the focus is not only on the goal itself but also on the journey to achieve the goal. Even if they don’t accomplish their goal by the end of the year, reflecting on their progress helps students recognize how far they have come. Purely evaluating whether or not they accomplished their objective can be very discouraging and demotivating. Rather, emphasizing to students the importance of the learning process creates a sense of success no matter the outcome. Helping students break down their goals into achievable steps is another way for students to feel successful along the way. Elias comments on how trying to accomplish too much at once is a sure way for students not to succeed. Letting students set their own goals and teaching them to recognize their progress can help them define success for themselves and feel accomplished despite results.

It can be difficult to balance setting high expectations that challenge students for the better while still giving them the autonomy to set their own goals and outlooks on success. However, student-defined success does not mean that schools need to change their values, alter their vision, or diminish their academics. It simply means shifting the focus from the product to the process, so students learn to value the work they accomplish and realize its benefits, regardless of the outcome. Schola is on a mission to improve education outcomes for all; students and schools alike. Accomplishing this mission starts with students being placed in the right educational setting so they can take control of their education and define what success looks like for themselves. 

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