Research suggests simply writing down goals increases your chances of meeting them and with resolutions swirling already, we can capitalize on the motivation in the air. Here are some tips to make it a meaningful endeavor:
Make it personal. Yes, your students should make academic goals, but have them make 1-2 personal goals, as well. Making personal goals with your students not only reminds us to think about our students holistically, but it also provides a time for the class to get to know each other and cheer each other on in a more personal way. Be warned, though, once your students know your personal goals, they’ll be really good at holding you to them. I still remember one of my students trashing my Starbucks ‘for my own good’ the year I committed to stop buying lattes before school!
Take the time. Try to commit a good 30 minutes for the class goal setting so that it can be as meaningful as possible. You want your students to make thoughtful goals and you also want some time for students to come up with specific strategies for reaching them and time to share some out with the class. If you’re worried about the time, remember that this is serving double duty as a team builder and will also hopefully increase their motivation once you dive into content.
Make SMART goals. By now we’ve probably all heard about SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. There are variations out there on what each letter stands for, but what’s important is that your students care about the goal, it’s measurable, and that they can actually reach it by the end of the school year. If it’s fluffy, like ‘get better grades,’ ‘don’t get in trouble,’ or ‘exercise more,’ then it’s hard to visualize it, make a plan for it, or know when you’ve achieved it.
Make informed goals. Depending on the age and maturity of your students, they can come up with some wild goals. With sixth graders, I often heard things like ‘get straight A’s’ or ‘get a 100% on the state test.’ While it was great that they were excited about improving, it was not fun to have the talk them back to something more reasonable. To combat this, make sure their current grades or benchmark data are in front of them and model how you might use that data to come up with a realistic goal.
Add some structure. Giving students a template of some kind that walks them through the process will help make the process efficient and increase the chances that they end up with appropriate goals. The template might start with having them browse their current data, for example, and also have space for them to include specific strategies for reaching each goal. I’ve also seen teachers include monthly calendars so that students can set interim goals or plot out reasonable time frames for their goals.
Follow-up. Once you’ve committed the time to creating and planning for the goals, make sure you include a couple of days in the semester to check in on the goals, calculate where they are, adjust their plans, etc. These follow-up days are important so that they don’t lose sight of or motivation around their goals and can make a big difference in whether or not they actually reach their goals.
Celebrate! Once students achieve their goals, celebrate that accomplishment. We celebrate because it’s fun and also to solidify a growth mindset by recognizing the real improvements they are making in their lives by setting goals and working towards them. It might be that there’s one day for celebration or a ritual for having students announce achieved goals as they happen throughout the semester and doing something special for them that day.
What other goal-setting activities do you use in your classroom? Share them in the comments!