Here’s a question for you: What is the point of high school?
Hint: There’s more than one right answer.
At Signet, it’s our hope that students will find a way to make school both meaningful and useful. Too many students see school as just another hoop they have to jump through. This attitude of “getting through it” leaves them, not surprisingly, with an unsatisfying school experience.
Other students move deliberately through these four years, acquiring specific skills and tools that they will use to build a meaningful life. I want to be clear that this doesn’t mean that you have to be the valedictorian. But you do need to able to wake up each day and go to school for a purpose.
This means you need a sense of what YOU want out of school. Thinking about and answering these questions is a tall order for a high schooler; plenty of adults don’t even approach their lives in this way. However, it’s certainly possible for you to engage in this process, and the process, not the answers, is what’s most important.
Reflection is an essential part of how we build and establish meaning. Reflection is a continuous, ongoing activity. Your worldview in high school is constantly in flux as you encounter new people, topics, and perspectives. Taking time to reflect on how those experiences have changed and shaped you is crucial for building a meaningful high school career.
Ideally, you should be reflecting regularly, on a daily or weekly basis. Whether or not that’s the case, the end of the school year is a particularly ripe time for reflection. Make time to look back after school has ended, but not so far into the summer that your memories have faded.
This is the time to take stock. What went well and what could have been better? How was school meaningful and how was it annoying? How might these observations tie into something larger, like an academic, college, or career goal?
By asking these kinds of questions regularly, you can identify what you want to keep doing well and what you’d like to do differently. This will not only make your next year more productive; it will also build the habit of creating meaning in your life.
How to Reflect on this Academic Year
When you started high school, you probably had tons of goals and ambitions. You were going to join the right teams, found your own clubs, and blaze an academic trail. The thrill of a new experience supercharged your imagination, and you were ready to conquer the world.
You are now approaching the midway point of your high school experience. Ambitions and goals have shifted; some have fallen by the wayside, while others have been exceeded. And in all honesty, some goals have probably not been achieved, or even worked towards, since they were first conceived at the start of 9th grade.
In addition to your own private reflections, now is the time for you to sit down with a parent or trusted adult and perform a self-assessment, an honest accounting of what you’ve achieved and what you still have to do. Here are some tips for assessing your high school experience so far:
1. Choose a time. The self-assessment shouldn’t be done “on the fly.” Thoughtful self-analysis requires preparation and real concentration. Find an evening to sit down with a parent and have an honest conversation about where you are.
2. Gather supporting documents. Gather together grade reports, any copies of assignments (tests, essays, etc.) with teachers’ comments, and any materials relating to your extracurriculars. This will help you and your parent discuss your accomplishments in concrete terms.
3. Think back. Try to remember and discuss honestly how you imagined your school life would be when you first entered high school. Check out the High School Road Map that we’ve created to help you note your dreams, ambitions, and goals.
4. Lead with strengths. What have you accomplished? Where have you shown improvement? Where have you met or exceeded expectations? “Connect the dots” of your experience, using the supporting documents you’ve brought to the table.
5. Next, zero in on weaknesses. After you’ve thought about your achievements, shift gears to write down things you haven’t yet achieved. What classes are giving you problems? What extracurriculars did you let slide? What goals have you lost sight of? This can be difficult, but try to listen to input from guidance counselors, mentors, or family; they have a valuable perspective.
6. Explain the shortcomings. We know that simply having a parent point out that you haven’t done a certain thing can lead to frustration or disappointment. Instead, explore and discuss with your parent why you think you didn’t end up founding a robotics club; whether it was realistic to think you would have read all of War and Peace by the end of sophomore year; if there are fundamental concepts in geometry that you still don’t fully grasp.
7. Return to the positive. We call this “the sandwich method”: lead with the good, zero in on shortcomings, and then end with more good. With your parent, find some item in your documents that reaffirms your accomplishments. We don’t want you to leave this conversation feeling beaten down or defeated!
8. Create an “action plan.” Having assessed where you are, work with your parent to figure out how to get where you need to be. With your parent’s input, write down concrete, actionable items related to the weaknesses and strengths unearthed in the steps above.
We recommend showing your parent this guide, to make sure they are approaching this process in the most helpful possible way: as your cheerleader and supporter. We promise that self-assessments like this can help you blossom into the kind of person you want to be!