Small Steps Toward Big Dreams

We’re two weeks into 2013. The change of year brings about reflection on the past year as well as resolutions for the new year. For most people, 2012 probably included both ups and downs. For me, 2012 included a tremendous personal loss as well as a positive transformation in how I intended to live my life daily from that day forward. With this intention in mind, I was fortunate enough to be able to find a new professional home at the Institute on Community Integration. This permitted me to quit my previous job to do something I absolutely love: connecting with people across the country who work exceptionally hard to help disengaged, marginalized students become and remain engaged in school and with learning.

Holstee Manifesto

Holstee Manifesto

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was beginning to live the Holstee Manifesto, whose message has been making the rounds on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Tumblr. I just recently stumbled across it on Facebook. The Holstee Manifesto promotes living an intentional life–doing much more than making New Year’s resolutions. The beginning, middle, and end of this manifesto read:

“This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often…Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them…Live your dream and share your passion.”

So, what does this have to do with Check & Connect and Attend-Engage-Invest?

“Live your dream…”

We want students to be able to live their dreams. We want them to live intentional lives with those dreams in mind. However, it will be extremely difficult for students to live their dreams if they’re at high risk for dropping out, they disengage from school and learning, or they haven’t even identified their dreams.

For students and adults alike, the possibility of living one’s dreams begins with setting goals for the here-and-now. Goal setting helps students think about their future; they set short- and long-term goals with their future intentions in mind. When describing goal setting with students in their influential book, Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind, Kosta & Kallick state, “It is important to encourage students to think big and then act small – one chunk at a time” (2008, p. 197). While we need to encourage students to envision their dreams and set long-term goals, we also need to help them take small steps toward these goals. When they experience small successes, they receive a boost in self-efficacy, which can lead to greater expectations for success in the future. Their future dreams and goals may expand as they engage in learning and see themselves making educational progress.

In Check & Connect, we use “check” data to determine where students are along the attend-engage-invest continuum, as noted in the Check & Connect manual. Then, “The mentor seeks to move the student from attend to engage to invest” (Christenson, Stout, & Pohl, 2012, p. 62). Mentors help students set different types of goals depending on where they are along this continuum.

  • At the “attend” level, the long-term goal is simply dropout prevention, and the short-term goals would relate to improving attendance.
  • School completion with academic, social, and emotional competence is the long-term goal at the “engage” stage, once attendance has become habitual. Short-term goals at this stage relate to fostering student engagement at school and with learning.
  • The ultimate goal, and the focus of the “invest” stage, is student readiness for achieving college, career, and life goals. It is the Check & Connect mentor’s job to guide the student along this path and help him/her create his/her own goals.

To this end, we created guides and forms for setting short- and long-term goals with students for Check & Connect Mentor Training participants to use with their mentees (provided here in PDF):

“Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them.”

As far as a goal for myself this year, I don’t have any specific New Year’s resolution for 2013. However, I do intend to live according to many aspects of the Holstee Manifesto. I will be meeting many new people who’ve joined the Check & Connect Coordinators Community of Practice, a national group of current Check & Connect coordinators sharing information, ideas, and lessons learned through quarterly telephone and web-based conference calls. I hope that we’ll be able to provide support for each other in this important work. If you are currently implementing Check & Connect and would like to join this group, please sign up for the Coordinators Community of Practice (our next call will be held Wednesday, January 23 from 1:00-2:00 CST and requires a separate RSVP).

In addition, I’ll be meeting many new people who are interested in implementing Check & Connect through implementation training or mentor training either here in Minneapolis or at their local site. We are always looking for host sites in different parts of the country for open enrollment implementation or mentor training to ease the travel costs of participants. Contact Gretchen Hatch (toll free at 866-434-0010 or via email at if you’re interested in hosting an open enrollment training at your site. I look forward to a great new year of connecting with people and doing the things I love.

About the Author: Eileen Klemm, M.A. is the new (as of November 2012) project coordinator for Check & Connect presenting training nationally, facilitating the Check & Connect Coordinators’ Community of Practice, and providing leadership in the overall training and support of the Check & Connect model.

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The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

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