Day Three of Self-determination Discussion

Dear colleagues: Welcome to Day Three of our discussion. And, I want to especially say hello to my colleague and friend, Stel Gragoudas. Stel and Lindsey are going to weave in the concepts of self-determination as described in the Learning to Achieve Professionals Guide. I'll let them get started and will be back with a few questions. Cynthia


Hello, All -

You can access the Learning to Achieve Professionals Guide  (L2A) here.  L2A defines self-determination as “the development of personal characteristics, knowledge and skills needed to take responsibility for and control of one’s actions.” To kick off the conversation with Lindsey, and our student panelists, I have two questions:

1.    In what ways does Academy of Hope support the development of these characteristics, knowledge, and skills?

2.    How has your school's transition to an adult public charter school impacted your ability to support the development of self-determination and grit in your learners?




Good afternoon.  My name is Mary and I am a student at Academy of Hope.  I want to share some of my ideas about these questions.

For me, what has kept me going is the commitment that I made when I first came here to Academy of Hope.  For me, I came to school in order to improve my English so that I could get a better job.  When things get harder, I go back and remember what made me come here from the first time.  I remember why I started coming , which helps me to keep coming back.  If you forget why you came in the first place, you will become discouraged from your goals and what you want to accomplish.

When I first started coming, I just came to learn English.  However, I learned that Academy of Hope had a lot of opportunities.  I would tell other learners that they just need to be open.  They need to be open to trying new things.  I tried a lot of new things and now know better what I want for my future.  For example, Academy of Hope gave us some information about a class about entrepreneurship.  I was willing to try that out and it has led to everything that I'm working towards right now.  Because I took this class and took this opportunity, I have now been able to register my business and am working on creating my non-profit.

The main thing is that people don't forget why they came back to school.  The second thing is that people have to be open to trying new things and taking advantage of all of the opportunities that are available to them.  It is also important that students create relationships with each other.  We can then push each other.  It might be one day that you feel down, but the other students can encourage you and you can all talk it out together.

A number of our staff members have a background in special education and vocational rehab and evaluation, so I think that it is widely recognized within our organization that self-determination skills are key to our learners’ success.  Like most sites, I’m sure, we look beyond the high school credential and try to help our students prepare for their future in post-secondary education and in careers of their choosing.  Self-determination is one set of skills that can help our learners with that type of preparation.

L2A offers a framework for self-determination that includes 4 major components:

  • Learn about and value oneself
  • Plan
  • Be proactive
  • Reflect and readjust

At Academy of Hope we try to support our students in doing each of these through a variety of programs and activities.  I’ll post about some of those later. 

Last year, we made a switch and went from being a community-based organization to becoming a charter school.  We did this, in part, so that we could provide more robust instruction in and opportunities for development of skills related to self-determination as we focused on helping our learners to become college and career ready.  The funding that comes with this change has allowed us to offer more robust services to our students – services that are designed to support self-determination.

  • We’ve added a student support services team that includes a case manager, job developer, vocational evaluator, college navigator, and special education coordinator.  Together we provide programming to teach and practice self-determination skills.  We also have opportunities to work with learners individually to help them to learn about themselves, make plans, and evaluate and readjust their plans.
  • We now offer extracurricular activities such as Career Fridays and after class programming that focuses on the development of these skills that is led by members of the student support services team and outside organizations.
  • We’ve been able to provide greater staff training to support the development of self-determination.  Instructors are learning about and using strategies that support the development of self-determination skills such as self-regulated learning, project-based learning, and Universal Design for Learning
  • We also have the staff to provide greater support in goal setting and following up on that goal setting in order to make that a more meaningful process for students that allows them to learn about themselves, make plans, and reevaluate and adjust those plans each term.

I'd love to hear from you all what your organizations are offering through your structure or programming to support the development of self-determination.

Hi, my name is Alexis and I am a student at Academy of Hope.

The biggest way that Academy of Hope has helped me to take control over my life is by helping me to build self-esteem.  I used to be a little shy, coming into the classroom feeling like all eyes are on me because I am blind.  Now, coming here and opening up to staff and students, I feel much better about myself.  People have always asked me questions, and now I have no problems sharing my situation with people.  I know that people here care, which gives me the confidence to open up more with everyone.  Talking about myself and my situation has helped me to get to know myself better and to have more confidence.

After finishing with Academy of Hope, I would like to attend college and major in business.  One day, I am hoping to own my own restaurant.  School is helping me to work toward that, especially as I build my math skills.  I was also able to attend a food handlers class so that I could pass the test to get my food handler's license.  Having this class helped me to feel more confident in my goal of opening a restaurant.  While I was always interested in that, I never thought that I'd be able to pass the test, but now that I have, I know that I can reach my goals.  I'm working with my teachers at Academy of Hope and with my case manager from RSA to develop a plan and start making my next steps toward these goals.

I have noticed that at some schools, they don't have blind students and so don't know how to work with us.  I want to say here that it is important to have staff trained to work with students who are blind.  If you do have a student, it's important that you sit down with that student to find out how you can help them keep up in class to reach their goals.  Letting them guide you will help to give them more confidence and will help you give them what they need so that they stick with the program at your school.  It's important that we find ways to support people who are blind so that they can reach their goals as well.

Hi, Alexis -

Thanks for sharing your goals and experience with us.  Congratulations on earning your food handler certification!  That's a great first step towards your long-term goal of owning a restaurant. 

I'm wondering if you can share with us how you've personally taken control of setting your goals and advocating for your needs as a learner?  Having teachers and other staff to support you is tremendously important; however, what would you recommend to learners who aren't as fortunate to have that one person who can help them navigate the challenges of school?  What personal steps have you taken to become a better advocate for your needs and goals? 



The first step that I took is I stopped asking counselors to speak up for me.  As I got older, I made a promise to myself that I would speak up for myself.  I knew that I wasn't a child and that I needed to speak for myself.  I also realized that if I didn't ask for anything, it would never get done.  I can only get the things that I ask for or make happen for myself and so need to not rely on other people for everything.

In terms of my goal setting, taking career classes at Academy of Hope taught me how to set a goal and make it more likely to reach it.  My career teachers taught me that I needed to put a time on my goals if I wanted to make them happen.  That is now how I set my goals.  I know exactly when I want to achieve my goals, and also know how to plan backwards to make sure that I reach them by that time.  Once I have my plan it is just up to me to make sure that I do it.

As for your question for recommendations to learners who don't have a lot of support, I would say that they should reach out to other organizations and people who have similar disabilities.  I would also recommend going to school disability centers to see if they can help.  While we can do a lot for ourselves, support can also help you stick with school.  I would also say that you just need to advocate for yourself.  You need to be able to sit down with your teachers to talk about what you need so that you aren't left out or feel like you are in the class just to be there.  I understand that it can be hard to talk about your situation, but sometimes you just have to put that shy part behind and pretend that you have the confidence to do it.  This is important because if you don't tell people what you need and how to treat you, they are just going to look at your disability.  They will not look at you like you're normal.  They'll just see your disability and might not believe that you can reach your goals and so might feel like they don't want to waste their time by helping you.  You have to speak up for yourself and make them see everything that you can do and tell them what they need to do to support you.


I like that you're thinking of your goals as time sensitive.  Setting goals  - and shorter-term benchmarks along the way to those goals - with dates in mind can be scary at first, but it also helps build a sense of urgency the closer we get to those dates.  While circumstance will arise that lead to set-backs, having a date - or date range - is critical to making oneself accountable to reaching benchmarks towards goals. 

I've also found that making time to review these benchmarks and goals, along with their projected dates, is important to being realistic with time commitments.  Setting aside time to review these will help learners make adjustments to time frames when new challenges arise, and as they begin to develop a more realistic sense of the time needed to reach these benchmarks and goals.


As I mentioned in my last post, at Academy of Hope we work to infuse our program with opportunities to develop and practice self-determination skills.  Again, based on the framework provided in L2A, self-determination is made up of four components:

  • Learn about and value oneself
  • Plan
  • Be proactive
  • Reflect and readjust

Here are just a few of the opportunities that we offer to develop these skills.

Orientation/Seminar: At the start of each term, new and returning learners participate in a two day orientation or seminar that include activities designed to teach and practice skills/attitudes related to self-determination.  Two popular activities that we include in these sessions are personal mission statement writing and vision boarding.  Our new students spend time learning about themselves as they reflect on their values and strengths before writing a personal mission statement for their lives.  Our returning students spend time creating vision boards in which they set goals and plan for the upcoming term based on reflections on the previous term.

Goal Setting:  Over the past year, we’ve worked to make the goal-setting that we do with students a more robust and meaningful experience that goes beyond simply filling out worksheets.  This process incorporates the planning, being proactive, and reflection components of the framework.  Each term students meet individually with a teacher or member of the students support services team to discuss their previously set goals, evaluate their progress, make adjustments to their goals, and set new goals.  This conversation is also an opportunity for students to discuss the resources that they have and need to meet their goals and to recommit to working toward the goals that they have for their lives.

Career Fridays:  While our classes only meet Monday through Thursday, two Fridays a month we offer Career Fridays.  The focus of Career Fridays changes each term based on the needs and interests of the learners, but in the past these Fridays have offered students opportunities to learn about themselves as they complete career interest activities, while also exploring career opportunities related to those interests.  Students have also worked on valuing themselves as they’ve learned to recognize and highlight their strengths while preparing for mock elevator pitches and job interviews or while writing a resume.

Vocational Evaluations:  We are lucky to have a vocational evaluation center as a part of our program and an evaluator on our staff.  This offers our students an opportunity to develop a deep understanding of themselves and their needs related to the world of work, an awareness that can be used to create better plans for their futures.

College Prep and Success:  Our students who are ready for and interested in college are able to take this course, which is designed to help them develop the mindsets that will help them to be successful in college.  Activities in this class focus on learning about oneself and learning how to plan to be successful in college.

Persistence Campaign:  This year we are focusing on learner persistence, which is closely related to grit. We are highlighting persistence through a number of acts small and large.  Each day during announcements, students are reminded of the importance of persistence and teachers are reinforcing the message in their classes in various ways.  We’ve also had persistence kick-off events in which students have signed pledges to “Keep it 100” by earning at least 100 hours of instruction this year.  We will be celebrating students who reach milestones toward this goal each month during special events.

Core Values:  An important piece to self-determination is creating an environment in which self-determination can flourish.  As an organization, we have a set of core values that all members of our community (learners, staff, volunteers) are expected to live by while at Academy of Hope.  These values are community, acceptance, respect, empowerment, and service.  These values are reinforced during all of our community activities and help to create a space where students can be proactive – taking risks, coping with criticism, staying determined, finding support, and communicating openly.

What kind of activities and practices are you already using to support the development of self-determination?  What ideas do you have of things that you might be able to start doing to support the development of these skills, characteristics, and knowledge?

Hi, Lindsey -

Wow, Academy of Hope really supports opportunities to develop and practice self-determination skills!  I'm interested in hearing more about the Career Fridays and whether you've been able to partner with any employers, or employment agencies, to talk more about the transfer of these skills to the workplace?  It is so valuable for learners to understand that this isn't only an academic issue, but one that will benefit them as they transfer into the workforce.


Our Career Fridays are mostly planned by our Student Support Services staff, many of whom have some background in career development or transition. In the time that I've been here, most of this has happened in house, though there is one event in which students travel to a corporate headquarters to meet with executives to discuss career planning.  This year, we have a job developer, so we are working to build relationships with additional employers. I am hopeful that we will be able to find ways to bring some of those relationships into our Career Fridays programming.

Dear Colleagues:

In our planning for this discussion, Stel shared a very well written resource with us that I don't think has been posted yet. 

Promoting self-determination for adults:  A practice guide (Vatland, Strickland-Cohn, Loman, Doren, Homer, & Walker, 2011).  

The publication examines and weighs the research on self-determination for adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities and I think their recommendations, based on the research available, holds true for many adults:

  • Recommendation 1:  Use direct and explicit instructional strategies to teach the components skills of self-determination
  • Recommendation 2:  Use person-centered planning methods
  • Recommendation 3:  Teach individuals skills needed to be a self-directed learner
  • Recommendation 4:  Organize environments to provide enriched opportunities, supports, models, and resources

Thanks, Stel!