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Have Students Create Their End-of-Year Legacy Now

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (
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Ask your students to imagine themselves at an assembly in June. All of their classmates, teachers, staff, even parents are there. Every student is called up to the podium at the center of the stage, and the principal reads a statement of what they accomplished in the past year.

Here's a question for your students: What would you want the principal to say?

Inviting students to write their end-of-year legacy at the start of the school year is one of the most powerful and efficient social-emotional and character development (SECD) interventions you can do for students, grades 5-12. First, you get to teach them about the concept of "legacy," and "reputation." You get to introduce them to the idea of being a person of character and deciding what kind of character they would like to have. Second, you start a conversation about character and accomplishment in the classroom, as kids can share their legacy statements and then you can raise the question, how can you support each other in accomplishing these important goals?

Next, you can review the legacy statements at the end of each grading period, which can lead to a discussion, using these questions:

  • How are you doing in working toward your legacy?
  • What can help you make (more, better) progress in the next marking period?

You can repeat this process throughout the school year. You can even integrate progress toward, and even selection of, the legacy into students' writing assignments. You can discuss the legacy of historical figures, as well as scientists, artists, poets, writers, people in current events, and ancestors.

Children who get into severe behavioral problems will be easier to support than they otherwise would be. You can help steer them back toward their legacies. It will also be helpful to discuss their legacies when kids are sent to detention or suspension. Conversations with them can be directed with the question, "How can we help to get you back on track?"

Of course, at the end of the year, you may have to find a way to celebrate the accomplishment of many legacies, and help students think about how to continue developing their positive legacies in the following year. But at that point, the success you (and the students) will have experienced will make this extra work quite worthwhile. Establishing and working toward legacies is an SECD strategy that, aligned with researched-based best practices, can be a valuable part of your back-to-school plans.

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Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

Comments (5) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Diane Hill's picture
Diane Hill
Student teacher preparing for certification from Gilbert, Arizona

This was a very helpful post. I felt inspired to plan a unit for the first week of school. I used your ideas to focus my lessons on a supportive classroom community. The legacy statement introduces students to the concept of potential and goal setting. This leads us to classroom management and rules, which the class will help me outline based on what we want to achieve together. I will introduce the writing process using their legacy statements as their first rough drafts of the year. As we edit our drafts we will talk about how mistakes make wonderful teachers if we accept them as part of the process. In addition, we will set a group goal to accept and support each other. This means accepting that we will each make some mistakes along the way, and that's OK! Thank you so much for the inspiration!

Evelyn Krieger's picture
Evelyn Krieger
YA author, educational consultant, homeschool advocate

I love this idea. It reflects one of the teachings of Stephen Covey: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: "Begin with the end in mind." Whenever my students get stuck or unsure how to proceed, I ask them: "What is your goal, here?" The same can be applied to parents and teachers. September is a great time to take stocks. Teachers--what will be your end-of-year legacy?

pottsedtech's picture
4-6 teacher interested in all things technology, curriculum and creative

This is very similar to the responsive classroom Hopes and Dreams procedure. Students write their Hopes and Dreams at the beginning of the year. Parents also write a set of Hopes and Dreams they have for their child's school year too. These are posted in the classroom and visited throughout the year.

ttrspks's picture
English Teacher from Queens, NY

Thanks. I did this today. Can't wait to start reading what my students wrote! It really helped them think about the year. Some students shared that it helped them think about what they'd need to do to be the kind of person they wanted to be...and that it would take a lot of work!

Maurice J. Elias's picture
Maurice J. Elias
Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

Your comments, and all those I have received here and elsewhere, reinforces how much in SEL/SECD is part of wider wisdom. While there are nuances of difference in what Covey and Responsive Classroom recommend, and the Legacy idea that I suggested, they are less important. Indeed, Grant Wiggins' Understanding By Design reflects the same pedagogical underpinning, the value of "backward planning." Remember, the idea can be used to help struggling students by giving them a realistic goal and suggesting the belief that they will reach it, if they continue to be willing to strive toward it. But the key, as always, is that the goal must be held by the one doing the work. Setting goals for kids that they do not buy into is likely to promote frustration and failure. Genuine legacy-setting is personal, and that's why it works.

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