The Value of Helping Students Set Goals

Forbes magazine featured an article in 2017 on why goal setting would improve your focus. The writer said, “We know that goal setting is important because they build self-confidence and help you increase productivity but the science behind why goals help us focus is more opaque.” The article went on to list five inherent values of goals:

  1. Setting specific goals motivates you to change your behavior. As you work toward the goal, you must make choices that keep you in line with the goal you have set.
  2. You naturally choose your next steps to stay in line with the goal—“the body follows the mind”.
  3. Making progress toward your goals motivates you to stay the course.
  4. Goals help to guide your focus and behavior.
  5. Goals build character and enable you to define yourself as someone who achieves goals.

If setting goals works so well, then why don’t teachers help students set personal goals more often? Research shows that setting goals encourages a growth mindset, improves achievement, and prepares students for future careers.

One popular goal-setting strategy is directing students to set SMART goals at the beginning of the school year.  SMART stands for:

  • S=Specific
  • M=Measurable
  • A=Achievable
  • R=Reachable
  • T=Time Constrained

SMART goals are designed to be easily understandable for students of any grade, with a focus on learning activities. Here are some SMART goal strategies:

  • Many teachers find it helpful to give students a SMART goal planning sheet which they can use to evaluate their progress each week.
  • A graphic organizer can be helpful to maintain the focus on the goals throughout the week.
  •  One teacher keeps a huge blank laminated calendar on the wall where students place a sticky note with a weekly goal. At the end of the week, they evaluate where they succeeded and where they need improvement.
  • The Frayer model can work well for setting specific goals because it includes:
  1. The definition
  2. Characteristics
  3. Examples
  4. Non-examples

Students can monitor their progress with a goal partner and with the teacher in order to make adjustments quickly.

But, many schools not only encourage learning goals but character goals, as well. Fostering a culture of kindness creates a positive experience for students and models for them healthy interactions with others.

Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist and teacher, says “classrooms can be the safe haven where academic practices and classroom strategies provide students with emotional comfort and pleasure as well as knowledge.” Brain imaging shows that students who feel emotionally protected and secure take more educational risks in front of peers because they know that the teacher upholds fairness along with openness. Building character goals into academic content can produce more thoughtful interactions in the classroom.

Combining both learning goals with character goals in a SMART goals format can produce a more well-rounded experience and achievement for all students. After all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure and you can’t improve what you don’t measure.

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