The President’s speech has been released by the White House. Here is what I think is the most useful part:

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

This fits in with a goal sheet I have students use, though it’s not a typical goal sheet focused on doing their homework or behaving better.  Let me explain…

Researchers have identified several characteristics that “good language learners” have.  I think they’re pretty good qualities of any kind of learner.  And, based on my nineteen year career as a community organizer, they’re also similar to what makes a good leader. I have them listed on a big poster on my classroom wall:


• Work well with others.
• Are willing to take risks.
• Are willing to make mistakes and learn from them.
• Have a good sense of humor.
• Teach others.

In my book coming out next year — Organizing To Learn: The Art Of Teaching English Language Learners (Linworth Press) — I go into detail about the different ways I use this list during the year.  But, for purposes of this post, I want to share that I ask students — ELL’s and non-ELL’s alike — to regularly reflect on these qualities, and to pick one of them that they are going to work on and what specifically they are going to do to improve (generally every week or two).  At the same time they pick a new one they reflect on how they did on accomplishing the previous goal.  And they share both their goals and reflections with their peers (in pairs and, if they want to, with the entire class — I also get a copy).

That’s not to say students don’t also get opportunities to set other types of goals — they do.  I’ve just generally found focusing on the qualities of this list seem to fit more into developing the life-long learners our school, and I, want to develop.

Feedback is welcome!