“I want to start the year off hopeful,” says high school English teacher Cathleen Beachboard. Beachboard is a firm believer in the value of taking the time to connect with students at the beginning of the year. But she noticed when she changed from teaching middle school to high school recently that teens benefited from additional get-to-know-you activities. “A lot of the time teenagers feel like they’re not in control, that their parents, guardians, teachers, they are the ones in control of how they’ll do things, when they’ll do things.”
Beachboard had an aha moment when one student reported feeling “stuck” in the present. Beachboard started thinking about what might help students feel more connected to their dreams and passions, their future selves (for related research, see this study).
And so, the Future Goals Gala was born. This 30-year class reunion (held 30 years early) asks students to come as the people they plan to be—and bring props to prove it (students have brought everything from the New York Times bestseller books they’ve written to photo albums of their future families to Olympic gold medals).
While her students are having fun mingling with their classmates, Beachboard takes notes—and uses the information she’s gleaned about her students during the rest of the year, incorporating students’ interests into the books and activities she chooses. She also groups students together based on common interests, which helps them break out of their social groups in the classroom.
“Kids need to remember the reason we go to school is not to get a job—it’s to empower you to become the person and the dream self that you ultimately want to be in the future,” Beachboard says. The Future Goals Gala “reminds them that they have the agency, they are growing into this person, and it gives them the push and desire to start putting forth the effort to become the person they’re going to be—and lets them know that they will be in complete control very soon.”
Beachboard has made a downloadable PDF of her Future Goals Gala information sheet available for other educators to use.