Goal Setting and Planning (Part 1): Overcoming Obstacles

open-accessVIU is an open access institution.   And each year, new students join programs with big dreams and high hopes.  They have spent time exploring their options, thinking and preparing, applying, getting transcripts in or assessments complete and once admitted they register in courses, organize finances to study and set out to fulfill their educational dreams.  They have created educational plans with great hopes of achieving their educational goals.  Goal setting and planning skills are required in order to get into school.   May I suggest that the ability to face and overcome obstacles and challenges is what it takes to stay in school and realize a dream?

Goal setting, on paper, is a relatively easy task.  I am here, and I want to go there.  I make my plans, garner my personal resources and set out to achieve my goal.  I see students do this all the time. I also continually see students bump into obstacles and unless they learn to overcome them, they become defeated and the educational goals and plans they’ve made can fade off into a distant forgotten dream.  Sometimes the obstacles are external like time constraints or financial issues.  Sometimes they are internal like fears or self-limiting beliefs.

Some students come to school with a strong circle of support in place – friends, family, mentors, and others who are there for them when the going inevitably gets tough. Education, in my books, is transformative, and even if one has all the financial resources to get to school and stay in school (which is an obstacle to be overcome by so many), it is tough work to transform. The task is fraught with many obstacles. Many wins are hard fought with late nights, early mornings and dogged determination.  Some students know how, or maybe are mentored at home into how to be gritty and determined and how to increase their circles of support to include their teachers and other professionals to help them build skills and reach goals regardless of the obstacles encountered.

And, in my experience, VIU has many capable and dedicated teachers who know how to reach out and make themselves available to students on a personal level to become part of each of their students’ lives not only as teachers, but also cheerleaders, encouragers and mentors. Many also know when and how to refer students to the support service professionals who work along side the academy enabling students to learn skills they can use to overcome obstacles.  These obstacles range from writing and study challenges, to financial challenges and lack of budgeting skills, to procrastination and time management challenges to name just a few.  Fortunately, there are also teachers, encouragers, cheerleaders and mentors who work in the Library, Writing Center, Math Center, Student Affairs, the Gathering Place, International Student Services, IT and in the gym.

I have wonderful colleagues across campus and am honored to witness them work to engage students, challenge them, reach out when they see students struggle, and help them learn to overcome an obstacle.  I try to do the same. Transforming is no easy task, and when we all recognize and rely on the skills of the other, and know when and how to refer, some of our students, all of whom inevitably encounter obstacles, may choose to widen their circle of support.  They may decide to face their challenges, struggle and learn new skills, transform and overcome – not all by their lonesome, or just with the aid of their personal resources, but with the inclusion of resources available to all students at VIU. Rather than walking away when they run into challenges, they choose to leverage available resources to help them learn new skills.  And this is a very good thing, because we all know that once a person graduates and realizes their academic goals, they do not suddenly stop encountering obstacles.  To learn how to overcome obstacles is to learn how to achieve a goal.

What Kind of “12th man” Am I?

sharon-football-smallIt’s Super Bowl Sunday, and the “de boys” in the house are watching the game.  The Seahawks pull ahead and the fans at the hometown stadium wildly cheer their boys on. I am not at the stadium urging them on.  I am not even in front of the t.v. shouting and cheering.  I do not whisper one word of encouragement.

Not being a huge football fan, I soon find myself watching a movie about football instead of the big game. Arguably one of the best sports movies of all time, I decide to watch Rudy.  It’s not really a football movie though; it has football in it, but the movie is more about dreams and passion and grit.  In one reviewer’s words, this movie is about “an undersized young man who overcame major challenges to play football for the University of Notre Dame.”

Rudy is a dreamer… but one who has commitment and perseverance in the face of obstacles, disappointment and failure.  These important factors are what allow him to ultimately be victorious and realize his dream of playing football for Notre Dame.

After the movie, being the curious type that I am, I look to see what I can find out about Rudy in real life.  Turns out he spent time as an inspirational speaker, has a foundation, a website and has published at least one book.

On his website, you can find his “game plans for winning in life”: www.rudyintl.com/inspirational.cfm. He presents 10 insights for success.  One of them is to “visualize your dream and make a commitment”.  Another one is “find mentors who encourage you”.

In the movie and in reviewing his website and story, he seems to have had at least 3 key people who encouraged him and helped instill a “can do” attitude and the will to work towards his dream despite seemingly insurmountable odds. At least one of them was a teacher at the college he was at prior to getting accepted at Notre Dame.

Passion and grit are required when the going gets tough.  Persistence in the face of challenge is a key feature of grittiness. Some students bring it.  It comes naturally to them it seems. Others doubt themselves more than others and in those inevitable low times of doubt we humans tend to experience at times, it is relatively easy to give up on one’s dreams.

As I ponder the role of the encourager, and as I hear reference to the role of the 12th man, yet again in the aftermath of discussion about the big game of this past Sunday, I can’t help but think that we educators just might be some students’ 12th man in their fight to realize their dreams.

But what kind of encouragement works best?  Interestingly, Carol Dweck demonstrated in yet another set of experiments that praising children for their intelligence could make them less likely to persist in the face of challenges.

Children praised for their effort only seemed to work harder when the challenges got tougher.  Praising children for their efforts, and likely university students for that matter, might be one key to bolster grit. I suppose it does not matter the exact words we choose; we all could use a little encouragement of some sort and at most times.

If indeed the Seahawk’s deciding advantage at the game was their crowd of encouraging fans cheering them on to victory, and if a small in stature player such as Rudy could actually pull off a successful tackle in a real NCAA football game amidst shouts of “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy” (his name was chanted in the movie version of the game), maybe, just maybe whispers of encouragement in the ears of my students could be the deciding factor in their fight to realize their academic dreams.

As I ponder these thoughts I can’t help but wonder, “what kind of “12th man” am I”?