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NEALS Blog September 2019

16 Sep 2019 9:00 AM | Anonymous

What I Need, What I Want, and What I Should do This Year

by Bill Flynn

Director of the Academic Guidance Center

Hebron Academy

Each year our students come back positive, energized, nervous, ambitious, uncomfortable, and each and every other stirring emotion a teenager can have when they start a new year. For the students enrolled in our Hebron Academy Academic Guidance Center, the beginning of the year is the most opportune time to engage students in a conversation about how they can create a productive and successful year. This is why our department focuses much of our attention on goal setting and planning to begin the year. What separates the beginning of the year goal setting from other goal setting activities we do throughout the year is that much of our initial goal setting is based on how the student (and in our case the staff as well) can dictate the year, and not on what the previous year has dictated.

The very first activity we do with our students is to help them see the upcoming year in three categories. We want to know what each student needs to do this year; what they want to do this year; and what they should do this year. These are three important optics through which each student needs to see himself or herself in order to be impactful throughout the school year. Each category pertains to a significant point of view, and all three should share equal value in the student’s overall academic development and success. 


The first category is the “Needs” category. This category focuses strictly on the external forces that push on the student. By this we mean forces such as classroom and teacher expectations, as well as other important elements in a student’s life, such as parents, health and wellness support, athletic coaches, and college counseling, to name a few. All of these elements have needs and demands and how a student responds to them are important for the student’s success. Students need to think about what others need them to do to be successful. Because this is usually laid out by others, what goes in this column tends to be very concrete and ridgid. 

The second category is our “Wants” column. This category that focuses on the internal expectations a student has for themselves and are most related to how they want their year to go. This includes academics, but it also tends to include social expectations, athletic, health and wellness, self confidence, and personal benchmarks they want to achieve during the school year. It is important to give voice, life, and planning to what students feel is important. This category allows them the opportunity to see that their vision of the upcoming year does not always need to follow how others see it unfolding.

The final category, the “Should” column, is the most teachable column and is also the most difficult for students to build a clear idea of what they can be with through self management, positive self talk, and better academic awareness. For this category, we ask students to think about how they performed when they were at their best in the classroom, as well as how they could have been more engaged when they were not at their best. This discussion with their academic coach can be insightful, and it allows the student to be open and honest about what they know about themselves, which helps our academic coaches to really build a clear idea of what kind of student they were before the year started and how our students can make themselves aware of what little things they can do to become a better student. 

Each category: the Needs, the Wants, and the Shoulds is looked at as equal in all areas of our goal setting process. Each category has overlap with the others and gives the student a clear idea of what they can accomplish this year. More importantly, to our academic coaches, it creates a foundation for the work we will do with our students throughout the year. We keep these goals and refer to them throughout the year as they tend to be broad and far reaching. As part of the curriculum in our program, we repeat this process of Needs, Wants, and Shoulds at the beginning of each week to give our students a plan moving forward in order to stay on track throughout the term. We make sure the initial goals are regularly interwoven into these activities so that the student maintains a level of consistency and focus throughout the year. This is an essential part of our program, and we have had a lot of positive feedback from our students doing this activity week to week in setting the table for their short term success.


The last stage of our activity is to let our students project out their year and identify three moments where they will “triumph”. These moments can come from anywhere in their lives such as an athletic achievement, academic achievement, or a social/emotional triumph they are going to have. It has always been fascinating to see what students come up with during this discussion. For our seniors, it could be getting into college, graduating, etc. These are special and we have made a point of celebrating them with our students. For others, we have seen more personal moments that are just as meaningful, such as calling home when they get an “A” on a geometry test, making a basket in a varsity basketball game, hugging a parent at graduation, and picking themselves up when something goes wrong. For myself and the other academic coaches in our department, this part of the process is inspiring because this reveals how complex and resilient the students we work with are and how lucky we are to work with them. It is not always easy, but when we have an opportunity to celebrate with our students, it gives us as much joy and satisfaction as it gives our students and it helps us all keep moving forward in a positive frame of mind. 

For a blank template of Hebron Academy Academic Guidance Center Needs, Wants, Should activity, CLICK HERE

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