Imagine this — it’s the beginning of the school year and you’re sitting with an ambitious student. This student can’t wait to tackle the new and challenging coursework ahead of them. In one version of the conversation, you tell the student, “You’ll have a great year if you just work hard and turn in your assignments on time.” In another version, you give the student the curriculum for the whole year and ask, “How much can you do in the next seven weeks?”

What’s the difference? In the first version, you take away the student’s control. You limit them to an average pace. In the second version, you give them the freedom to make a choice. You ask them to set a goal, the first step toward achieving anything.

You’ll hear the second conversation at Alpha.

At the beginning of every Session, Alpha students set Session Goals. These goals serve as clear and specific targets for a student’s progress in their adaptive apps for the core academic subjects — math, science, reading, and writing.

Each student’s Session Goals are tailored. First, the student sets their own goals. Then, Guides, using that students’ data and work pace from previous sessions, help them set official Goals. Guides coach kids to increase or reallocate their time according to their needs. Though Goals vary between students, every Alpha student is on a mastery based pathway toward scoring in at least the 90th percentile of their grade level in each subject.

Session Goals indicate targets for both progress and the quality of work. Students indicate how many chapters, units, or lessons they want to do in each app and what score they will achieve.

Using their Session Goals, students then create weekly goals and daily goals. After the first week of each Session, goal setting continues as an ongoing negotiation. Students try on easier and harder goals, and Guides check data and check in with students, making adjustments when needed.

The subtle magic of having students set their own goals is that they end up owning their most important asset — their time. When you visit an Alpha campus in the morning during Core Skills, you’ll hear students tapping away at their keyboards. Remember that each of those students has decided what they want to work on that day. One of our things to see is a student’s face lighting up after they met the daily goals that they created for themselves.

Our line on goals is simple — because we believe that students can do anything, we give them the freedom to set their own goals.

This week was filled with Session Goal setting. At the beginning of each session, Guides ask students what they want to aspire to in Session 3 — these are the students’ unique goals, and students own them. Guides then compare the student’s aspirations with data on their work pace from previous sessions and the student’s unique academic needs. Guides encourage students to increase or decrease (and you would be shocked how often we have to nudge kids down!) their goals where needed. Finally, students and Guides agree on their “official” Session Goal slate.

Please remember that this process doesn’t end after day 1. The entire first week is an ongoing negotiation as students try on easier and harder goals and make needed adjustments. We also check data and check in with students after the second week to make sure no goal is way too easy or way too hard, and adjust where needed.

If your student is nervous about their goals, encourage them to do two things: 1) talk to their Guide! And 2) make the most of their Core Skills time! All goals are calibrated to be accomplishable during Core Skills. But to do that, they have to use work time for work!

K-12 private school serving students in Austin, Texas. We are a community that believes that success lies in hard work and innovation. www.alpha.school