At Long-View, we often consider the messages that children hear in the world, and one of our least favorite is this question:

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

While it sounds like an easy conversation-starter, the impact of this question is to teach kids that they aren’t capable of doing anything meaningful until they grow up. Instead, we like to ask our learners:

"What do you want to be or do now? How can you take responsibility for your world today?"

In the interest of empowering our learners to develop their sense of agency, we held our first Impact Week just before Spring Break. The idea was that Impact Week should be somewhat like Build Week, with an opportunity to deep-dive into a new topic or concept, and to build new skills. Unlike Build Week, however, Impact Week was learner-run, with each Grey Bander developing and implementing their own project.

The week before Impact Week, Grey Band’s literacy block focused on proposal-writing. A proposal, they learned, has two purposes: to get feedback on your ideas, and to earn the support (time, money, labor, etc.) of people who may be interested in your project. Each learner considered the type of impact they wanted to have on their learning or their community, and wrote a proposal and annotated bibliography explaining why their project deserved support. They even created schedules showing when and how they would tackle each step of their project, and detailing the specific types of support they were asking for. Proposals ranged from planning a tiny home development to promoting ADA compliance in Austin’s public buildings to exploring the discipline of architecture to writing a screenplay with a feminist theme. The teachers met at the end of the week to consider the proposals and brainstorm resources to connect the learners with.

Impact Week offered a noticeable change of pace from a regular week. On Monday morning, Grey Banders staked out individual workspaces in the Loft, setting up desks, books, computers, and whiteboards. For most of the day, the space was silent, each learner completely focused on implementing the plan they had made. Learners conferred with teachers to draft professional emails to experts, asking for information and interviews. They brainstormed and practiced interview questions, researching their interviewees beforehand, to make sure they were asking the most useful questions--questions tailored to the person’s specific expertise, and designed to get them talking!

Some of these emails turned out to be very effective, and several learners were able to schedule interviews with experts. On Monday, Georgia Skype-interviewed the Executive Director of the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities and a local activist who advocated for accessible playgrounds on behalf of her son. On Tuesday, Janie had an interview with an architect at UT, and even got to visit a construction site to interview an architect and look at blueprints. On Thursday, Marin interviewed two historians at UT who study the social impact of comic books, and who helped her conceptualize an impactful comic book of her own.

By the end of the week, most Grey Banders discovered that their projects had evolved from what they had originally proposed. Still, they each felt they had made progress toward having their desired impact. Lily had educated her peers about the meat industry, tested vegan recipes, and raised over $70 for the ASPCA. Nico had written and  posted a petition to enforce solar power in Austin. Victoria had written 18 pages of a screenplay promoting girls’ empowerment through sports. Max had built a prototype for a germ-killing electronics-cleaner, and started some bacterial cultures for use in further research. Reflecting on the process, the learners agreed that carefully planning and proposing their projects in advance had set them up for success, while continued flexibility was the key skill that kept them going throughout Impact Week. They felt that the self-driven nature of the work kept them invested and eager to push their projects forward, and they loved having a whole week to drive their own learning. Many announced that they would continue their projects over Spring Break, and some even speculated that they could use their new emailing and interviewing skills to reach out to more experts and build connections with people working in their areas.

What was the impact of Long-View’s first Impact Week? Empowering learners to drive their own learning, and to see themselves as capable of shaping their world now!