How to Help Students Set Meaningful Goals

by | Jan 2, 2023 | Teaching Strategies | 0 comments

Why I Set Goals Every Year

Why do I set goals for myself every year? 

Goal-setting is an important part of professional and personal development. I love to set goals every year. Even if (honestly, when) I don’t complete all of my goals, it is really encouraging to see the improvements I’ve made.

It can be difficult to set goals. How big should my goal be to motivate and not overwhelm? What should I even set goals on?

Tips For Setting Goals

It is important to have goals that will push you – but also that you can accomplish. Who wants to come up with a lofty goal that they can never achieve? 

Deciding what is achievable but also hard enough to work toward can be a challenge. Some people set a goal plus a stretch goal to make sure they are pushing themselves.

For example, a goal might be to increase my social studies grade. If my current grade is a 75, I could set my goal to be 80% and my stretch goal to be 85%. (You don’t have to set a stretch goal, but it is an option.)

Goals should not be so easy that you are guaranteed to make it, but they also shouldn’t be super difficult to achieve. If they seem unattainable, it is hard to stay motivated to reach them.

Also, goals should also be written in a way that is measurable. That is why I liked to set goals at the beginning of each quarter – students knew their goal time-frame. We just had to make sure that what they picked could be easily measurable.

TeachingIdeas4U How to Help Students Set Meaningful Goals

What Kind Of Goals Should I Set?

If a goal isn’t meaningful, you will never achieve it. That is why teachers need to have students select their goals. Students need to determine what they want to improve in order for them to buy into the goal.

While I set professional goals for myself, I have students set one academic goal and one social-emotional goal. 

While it is good to have goals, having too many makes it difficult to focus on them. It is better to narrow down to the ones that will have the most impact.

Start with the Positive

I have students reflect on what they do well during our goal setting times. I believe it is really important for people to recognize their gifts – we all have a gift, but kids too often focus on what seems “important” to others. 

For example, my mom is amazing with cats and preschoolers. I don’t know why, but they both flock to her. Little kids even come up to her in stores. Although her gift often isn’t acknowledged, this is definitely her zone of genius. 

Kids (and parents) often spend a lot of time focusing on what isn’t going well, so it is important for teachers to help them see where they shine.

Academic Goals

After identifying what they do well, students need to select what they need to improve. Students may want to select “math” or ”reading,” but that is too broad. I am sure they aren’t necessarily bad at the entire subject. 

Students need to select a skill within their weak area. For example, students may need to work on knowing their multiplication facts or reading fluency. Those are specific goals that they can target. 

After selecting the skill, decide how you can measure improvement in the skill. Perhaps fewer multiplication errors on math homework or a test. Reading fluency could be checked with an assessment. Set a specific target to hit by the end of the quarter.

Bad Examples:

I will read better. (What specific reading skill is the student to work on? How will they know if they have met the goal?)

I will increase my knowledge of multiplication facts. (While the students targeted a specific skill, there is no way to measure their growth in the goal.)

I will increase my science grade to 97%. (This might be a good goal, but if a student is currently making a 70% it is unlikely. The goal should be reasonable in comparison to what the student is currently achieving.)

Good Examples:

I will increase my reading fluency to level ____, with no more than ____ errors.

I will improve my memory of multiplication facts by having no more than ____ multiplication errors on _____________.

NOTE: I didn’t add in a date, because I always used the marking periods. If you don’t have a built in timeframe, then you should also select a target date for achievement.

Social/Emotional Goals

These goals can vary depending on what grade level you teach. In elementary, a big social/emotional goal can be self-management. 

Teaching your kids to handle their emotions, bodies, and impulses is a really important part of elementary, especially lower elementary. 

You can also work on relationships with classmates, opening up your goals to increased communication and teamwork within your students. 

Again, students should acknowledge what they do well, then select a skill that they want to improve. Goals should be specific and measurable, just like the academic goals.

Example Goals

I will improve my organization by using a planner to write my assignments. I will write down my assignments accurately 90% of the time.

I will improve my ability to process my feelings by using self-talk to calm down. By the end of the quarter, I will reduce my outbursts to no more than _____ per ______ (day, week – depending on student.)

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Write Action Steps

The last step to goal setting is to decide how you will work on reaching those goals. Without deciding on how, it is difficult to attain the goal.

For example, if I want to cut expenses and save money, I need to decide where I can cut back and how I will save.

This is true for any goal. As we are selecting goals that are (usually) weak areas, we all need some guidance in how to improve. 

A student who needs to improve math skills may commit to saying or writing out the math facts each night. If the family is willing, they may also play math games at home a set number of times each week.

The student who wants to improve fluency should commit to reading a specific amount of time each week (and staying focused during that time.)

Social emotional skills can be harder to improve, because students need a lot of support. If the school counselor is able,perhaps they could take students for specific lessons. If multiple students select similar goals, they could be taught in a small group lesson.

Teachers will also have to help support the social emotional goals. They may need to give a student a reminder to use their cool down technique or to get out their planner.

Reflect On Goals Periodically

Goals are not “set it and forget it.” If you set goals in October and never discuss them again, chances are few students will achieve them. 

Build reflection time into your routine. Perhaps students check in on their goals every Friday afternoon. They can mark down their progress or track how well they are following through with their action steps.

I know it is hard to carve out time in an already stuffed schedule, but identifying and measuring goals is an important life skill in itself. Without the ability to reflect on their skills and learning how to work toward a goal, students often struggle to build perseverance and self-reflection.

Life skills like goal setting have been squeezed out of classrooms, but it is imperative teachers and parents help students develop these abilities. A student who learns to reflect on their abilities and work toward a goal will carry these skills into adulthood.

To help your students develop and achieve goals, I made this free printable to use in your classroom.

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Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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