8 Conditions That Make a Difference

If schools want to know how they are faring in providing quality education, perhaps they should turn to the most direct source for some answers — their students.

This is the direction taken by the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations, which has done extensive research in this area. The institute has developed the My Voice© Student Aspiration Survey, which assesses student opinions by asking them to respond to a series of statements about their learning environment.

The survey was created to measure the institute’s 8 Conditions That Make a Difference,® which contribute to better student achievement. The conditions are as follows:

Belonging means that a student is a valued member of a community while still maintaining his or her uniqueness.

Heroes are people with whom a student can connect. They have a positive influence and listen to and value students’ ideas.

Sense of Accomplishment is based on being recognized for different types of success, including hard work and being a good person.

Fun and Excitement as a condition means students are inspired. Students are actively engaged and emotionally involved in their schoolwork.

Curiosity and Creativity become evident when students ask “why” or “why not” about the world around them.

Spirit of Adventure is experienced when students tackle something new without the fear of failure or pressure of success.

Leadership and Responsibility as a condition happens when students can make decisions and accept responsibility for their actions.

Confidence to Take Action is the extent to which students believe in themselves and are encouraged to dream about their future, while being motivated to set goals in the present.

As a result of the My Voice survey, schools such as Tahoma High School in Covington, Wash., have made relationship building a significant part of the curriculum.

“When we looked at the data from the survey, we quickly realized that we had a lot of work to do on the relationship side of being a great school,” says Tahoma Principal Terry Duty. “The data was undeniable — half of our students didn’t feel like they belonged or had a connection to school.”

The school now has an advisory program in which teachers, counselors, librarians, paraprofessionals, the principal and other staff members are assigned to 15 students in grades 10-12. The groups meet once a week for 30 minutes to talk about life, choices and growing up. Discussions range from building self-confidence and evaluating one’s ethical behavior to report cards and current events.

— Ray McNulty and Russell Quaglia