Walt Disney famously said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Too many children and teenagers don’t have dreams for the future; they may not even have goals for next week. This is one of the underlying reasons for the chronic absenteeism that plagues many inner city and rural schools; why bother going to school if you don’t see how it will impact your future? That is why a non-profit organization called The Future Project has made it their mission to help students identify and realize their dreams. The program involves three main components, Will (the motivation to dream of a better future), Skill (the abilities and habits needed to make that future real), and Thrill (the support of an environment where that future seems possible). The Future Project’s plan is based on current research, which indicates that students who have dreams that they believe they can achieve are more likely to succeed, not only academically but also personally and professionally.
Carol Dweck of Stanford University states that a “growth mindset” is one in which people believe that their abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication, that brains and talent are just starting points for success. A person who has this mindset often becomes a lifelong learner, someone who challenges himself and recognizes that achievement will take time and effort. Researcher Shane Lopez writes about hope theory, which shows that hopeful individuals are less likely to give up and are more persistent in finding alternative routes to achieving their dreams; therefore, hope is a quality schools must foster in students. Dr. Pedro Noguera (a Brown University alum and former Providence teacher) has written numerous books on urban education and believes that resilience is a critical component to student success.
The Future Project’s CEO, Andrew Mangino, a former White House speechwriter, believes that helping students to identify their passions and their dreams (as well as mapping out a path to achieve them) is the key to transforming schools into places that inspire greatness in their students. The organization has installed Dream Directors in high schools in New York, New Haven, Newark, and Washington DC; this fall, they have added schools in Detroit and San Francisco. Their goal is to have a Dream Director in every high school (approximately 25,000) in America by 2020. Dream Directors are fully integrated into the life of the school, and they build Dream Teams composed of coaches, students, and teachers who serve as leaders and role models for others in the school. Students are encouraged to start clubs or teams and spearhead projects that often change the culture of the school. Participating schools have reported higher attendance, stronger leadership, collaboration and perseverance, and a more positive and supportive school climate.
It’s a great idea and a great campaign. But until The Future Project realizes their goal of having a Dream Director in every high school in America, we can do something similar (if on a smaller scale) in our own schools and communities. We can use the research cited above to help inspire students at all grade levels, not just high school. First, teachers need to take the time to really get to know their students, to connect with them on a personal level so that they can help students identify their passions and then develop goals for the future. Ideally, this should start in elementary school and continue through middle and high school.
Schools must commit to helping students develop a plan for achieving their dreams. In middle and high schools, where students see multiple teachers in a day, each student might need an adviser who will get to know her personally and help her map out a path to success. That adviser should be an advocate and a cheerleader. Do we need to hire more people to make this possible? No – current classroom teachers can also serve as advisers. But we will need to build time into the school schedule for students to meet with their advisers once a week, and we will need to provide training for the teachers so that they can serve as advisers.
These are some of the same things that happen in independent schools, after-school mentoring programs, and places like Boys & Girls Clubs. But if we know that these types of activities and programs help children and teenagers to succeed, why wouldn’t we want to incorporate them into the school system? Why does it fall on a non-profit organization like The Future Project to make our schools places where dreams come true for all students? The innovative ideas are out there – we just need to find a way to make them a reality for everyone.
This post was originally published at GoLocalProv.