Whole Child Symposium

Russell Quaglia: From Dreaming to Doing

Post written by Laura Varlas

Russell Quaglia - 2014 ASCD Annual ConferenceHow would you rate your ability to put your dreams into practice? How would you rate your students?

Aspirations—having goals and being inspired in the present to pursue them—challenge us to match our dreams with actions, explained Russell Quaglia at his lively 2014 ASCD Annual Conference general session. But for many students, he added, aspirations get lost in the limbo between dreaming and doing.

"We have a lot of dreamers, but not a lot of doers," he said. "The disconnect between kids' hopes and dreams and how they're going to reach them is profound." Drawing on MyVoice surveys of more than 1 million students done by the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations (QISA), Quaglia argued that this gap is symptomatic of a student population in which about half feel disengaged and disconnected from their school community.

To reconnect students to achieving their dreams, we must shore up the connections between kids and school, said Quaglia. He provided insights from more than 20 years of research pointing to the common-sense approaches schools can take to help students live their dreams.

QISA's aspirations framework is anchored in three guiding principles—self-worth, engagement, and purpose—that are lived out in a set of conditions evident among great schools and educators.

Self-worth is fostered by

  • Creating a sense of belonging: It's important to be part of the school community, while also retaining your individual identity. Quaglia cautioned educators to be wary of the "Nothing. Nowhere. Fine." rut. These students may be especially cut off from their aspirations.
  • Having heroes: Students need people who believe in and are there for them. Quaglia encouraged educators to be real with kids and share what drives you.
  • Feeling a sense of accomplishment: This means being recognized for a variety of successes, including effort. Quaglia recommends sharing your own accomplishments and sources of pride.

Engagement is established in schools that prioritize

  • Fun and excitement in learning.
  • Students' (and teachers') natural curiosity and creativity. ("Ask your staff what they're curious about. If we're creative and curious, it'll translate to the classroom," Quaglia said.)
  • A spirit of adventure or healthy risk taking.

Schools engender a sense of purpose when students have

  • Real opportunities to demonstrate leadership and responsibility. (Don't just give students token governance roles, Quaglia advised; put them in charge.)
  • The confidence to set goals and take steps to reach them.

What it takes to drive student dreams is the common sense stuff that is already in us, Quaglia said. We just need to tap back into it and be bold enough to take action—as both listeners and amplifiers of student voice. Attending to student voice will lead us to the conditions that support student aspirations, and those dreams will unlock the potential of our greatest resource—our students, Quaglia maintained.

More than standards, Quaglia said, educators need an attitude that drives their purpose, every day. "I challenge you to reflect on why you get up every day, to never stop learning from students, and spend more time with kids on where they're going and less on where they're coming from," Quaglia urged.

"All the hopes and dreams we have for our students, ourselves, and our children are all within our reach, and I challenge you to do it now."

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