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Completing Small Tasks to Conquer a BIG Goal

By Liz Walch

My service-learning students at the Academy for Global Citizenship are great at coming up with BIG ideas. And they not only have BIG ideas, they have a lot of them.

“Let’s invent and build a machine to clean all the trash out of the ocean!”
“Let’s have a Dungeons and Dragons tournament to raise money!”
“Let’s stop all robbers from stealing things!”
“Let’s put on a benefit concert! I’ll sing!”
“Let’s stop identity theft!”
“Let’s take a field trip to give out blankets to people who are homeless!”
“Let’s raise awareness about racism!”

I love that my students are aware of so many issues facing the world and that they aren’t afraid to think BIG. When it comes to picking a cause and a project, they aren’t wanting for ideas, and from this plethora of ideas, my students and I go through the process of picking which specific project we want to complete during the 12 weeks we have together (I discussed a method to help in that process in a previous blog.)

The project my students decided on this past session was to do a smoothie stand in their school to raise money for a local animal shelter, but the thing about having a BIG idea is that it is…big. Yet breaking down the project into smaller, more detailed steps makes the process of achieving that goal not only more manageable but more likely to succeed.

When we started discussing the to-do list to make our smoothie stand a success, the students were quick to identify a few key steps, such as getting ingredients and making flyers to advertise the smoothie stand. “That’s a great start!” I said, but then pushed them to get more specific and detailed.

For example, they knew we needed ingredients. But what else did we need to consider from that one simple “to-do”? From there we had to break it down further and decide exactly what ingredients we needed. This meant researching smoothie recipes, voting on the top three flavors we wanted to sell, and writing up a full ingredient list including cross-referencing the recipes to see which ingredients were in multiple flavors (such as bananas or almond milk). We also had to decide from where we were going to get the ingredients. Were we going to buy them (and with what money)? Get them donated (and from whom)? By when did we need the ingredients? Who was going to be responsible for collecting them? Not to mention we needed to figure out approximate quantities of each ingredient and ensure the ingredients used followed the school’s food policy. Obviously there was a lot to think about!

Also consider the seemingly simple task of “making flyers.” My students always like doing anything artistic so for a couple classes they were always asking if today was flyer- making day. “I love your enthusiasm, but we need to decide a few things first!” Before we could spend a class period actually creating the flyers, we had to decide on the date, time, and location for the smoothie stand. This meant discussing these details together as a class and then asking permission from the after-school program coordinator at the school. Luckily, we waited for her final answer to make the flyers because, when our originally proposed location was not a possibility, we had to change it. Good thing we didn’t put the wrong location on the flyer prematurely! We also wanted the flyers to list the smoothie flavors, but of course we didn’t have that information until after we researched our favorite recipes and voted on the final three flavors. We also wanted to translate the poster text into Spanish, some of which the students could do, some of which needed to come from a Spanish language dictionary, and some of which came from adults. Again, there was so much to think about and complete!

I know my students will be faced with big challenges and will have big goals for themselves for the rest of their lives. This is why it was so important for them to not only be involved in completing all of the small steps to reach their goal, but to also be challenged with the critical thinking necessary to identify, prioritize, and correctly order those small steps. They must learn that, just because a challenge seems dauntingly big, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to solve it. I also wanted them to learn that just because the steps are small, that doesn’t make them any less important or essential to the success of the big goal.

When it was finally the big day, the smoothie stand sold out of the smoothies within half an hour and raised $93! By fastidiously breaking down and completing each small step, the students’ BIG idea turned into a BIG success!


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