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Transitioning to Upper School: Perseverance and Goal Setting

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"I know that it’s easy to think of building the high school as the job of KLS’s administrators, teachers, and staff, but the truth is that it’s just as much up to us as it is to them."

Khan Lab School students transitioning between Independence Levels are asked to share their lessons learned with teachers, families, and peers during our Term Exhibitions. Abhi, who is transitioning from Independence Level 5 (Middle School) to our new Independence Level 6 (Upper School), spoke about managing his own expectations, how to maintain his drive, and pushing to achieve his goals.

Read Abhi’s full speech and watch his presentation below.

“It’s obvious to not set your goals too low. The same rule applies to setting your goals too high.”

First of all, I would like to give everyone here a huge thanks for coming to our Exhibition and to my Independence Level Transition Speech. I would like to thank my family, my friends, and my Advisors and teachers – past and present.

When I first arrived at KLS, in fall 2015, I was quite excited, to say the least. Since I had come from a more traditional environment, I wanted to prove myself in this environment. Also, I had never had this much freedom in my schedule, and since my parents had informed me about the way that this school works and the opportunities I would have, I developed many passions, such as one for the Rubik’s Cube and, perhaps best known among my peers, one for computer programming.

Transitioning to Upper School, by Abhi V.My very first term was one of my best at KLS. I finished every single one of my academic goals, as well as learning Python programming with the Pygame library to build games, and building 3D games with another library, called OpenGL. Unfortunately, however, this success did not last through Term 2. Now, I have many theories about what happened in Term 2, but all of them follow a similar story. After Term 1, I had the idea that I could accomplish anything, so I decided to set ridiculously advanced goals. Needless to say, I felt like I was working basically all term at goals that were not yielding me any progress. A possible explanation for this is that my motivation decreased when I realized how much I had to do that term, so I stopped wanting to achieve my goals.

Now, when you fail to complete goals, what do you do? The natural thing for a student at KLS to do is to pare back those goals and try new strategies to complete them. So, of course, what I did was double the amount of work I needed to complete in an even shorter term, Term 3. This went on for a few terms, and by the end of the 2015-16 school year, it was clear that I was not going to complete my Math and English Language Arts goals.

Now, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my new Advisor, Mikki, for the following year, since I had only had a few previous interactions with her. As it turns out, Mikki was an amazing person and Advisor who instilled in me some much-needed discipline. It looked like I would have everything in place to have a great 2016-17 year. However, I am slow to learn my lessons. So I had another term of (in essence) not completing all of my goals. I completed some of them, such as Math and computer programming, and came close to completing others. Newsela opinion sheets were still pushing me back. (For those of you who don’t know, we complete an “Opinion Sheet” for each of the articles we read on the Newsela website, in which we critically think about the article, answer questions, and write about it.) To encourage myself to complete this particular goal, I decided to punish myself by doubling the number of Newsela Opinion Sheets I needed to complete for each week I didn’t finish my goal.

By the midpoint of the term, I was literally dozens and dozens of Newsela Opinion Sheets behind my goal. Needless to say, I did not complete my 40 Newsela Opinion sheets (that’s how far behind I was!), and I finally, finally, finally learned my lesson, which was to set less aggressive goals for skills that I was less excited to complete, and to not procrastinate on those goals. Punishing myself with more of something I didn’t like to do got me nowhere.

Lesson #1: Work to set tough (but achievable) goals for yourself.

It’s obvious to not set your goals too low. If you set your goals too low then you will not accomplish or learn much per term. However, I can tell you from experience that your motivation all but ceases to exist when your goals seem too accomplishable. The same rule applies to setting your goals too high. You may manage to complete them, but the price you will have to pay is your entire life, which will be spent completing those goals instead of relaxing or pursuing hobbies.

Lesson #2: Persevere, persevere, persevere.

When you have an ambitious goal, self-doubt may creep in. I am telling you here and now that you need to stop listening to that negative voice in your head or to anyone who may try to discourage you. Anything is possible. I look at it this way. If you have a goal and you know how to accomplish it, the only barrier is personal effort. This is probably my most important takeaway from my time at KLS: Goal + Path + Effort = Accomplishment. As an example, I had a goal at the start of this school year to learn how to design a compiler. A compiler is a computer program that translates one computer programming language into another. Although it took several months and many, many tries, I kept working at it. I wrote compiler after compiler, read book after book, and looked at thousands of lines of code that other programmers wrote, and eventually, I got it.

So, where do we go from here?

As KLS’s first IL6 class, we have a huge responsibility. I know that it’s easy to think of building the high school as the job of KLS’s administrators, teachers, and staff, but the truth is that it’s just as much up to us as it is to them. We are all a part of this small, but growing, community of innovators. Later tonight, we will be welcoming dozens of new students to KLS, including several to IL6. A common theme throughout my 13-year-long journey has been friendship. Friends are very important, especially during adolescence, and I can speak firsthand about the positive qualities it brings out in students. And truthfully, it’s our job to help the new students adjust and build a community for the high school. It may seem like a huge responsibility to be IL6ers, and we may feel unready, but I have great confidence that we can do it.

Thank you.


This Transition Presentation was one of six shared with a large audience of family members and friends on August 17, 2017. The Upper School opened on September 5, 2017 – the first day of Khan Lab School's fourth year.


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