Students, like most people, have goals. Skills they want to learn. Tasks they want to get better at. Things they want to experience or accomplish in their life. But while all students have aspirations, many don’t have the tools or strategies needed to actually achieve their goals.
As a parent and/or instructor, you want your students to be able to establish realistic goals and actionable steps to move forward—but have you provided them with a solid framework to be successful? Below, we’re sharing how to approach goal setting for students in a simple and SMART way.
The Importance of Goal Setting for Students
Before we jump into how to have successful student goal setting, let’s first discuss why it’s so important for students to create their own goals rather than having a parent or instructor do so for them.
For starters, encouraging and equipping students to set goals themselves makes it far more likely that they will actually achieve the goals. Think about it: in most situations, aren’t you more likely to do something that you want to do rather than what someone else wants you to do? The same mindset applies for students when it comes to working towards goals.
Student goal setting is beneficial for several other reasons, including:
- Teaching accountability and self-regulation
- Learning how to track, reevaluate, and revise goals
- Overcoming obstacles through persistence and hard work
- Advocating for oneself
Of course, setting the right kind of goals makes a big difference. When it comes to goal setting for students, we suggest using the SMART framework.
What is a SMART Goal?
SMART is an acronym that’s used to establish goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Oftentimes, students set goals that are too vague or even impractical and then struggle to achieve those goals. SMART goals, on the other hand, provide clear parameters and actionable steps for students to be successful in their pursuits.
5-Step SMART Goal Setting for Students
Now that you know what the acronym stands for, let’s take a deeper look at the five essential steps to setting a SMART goal.
1) Get Specific
We’re far more likely to accomplish goals that are specific because they give us a clearer idea of what we actually want to achieve. Consider the following example:
Let’s say your student’s goal is to become a better student. This is a vague goal because it isn’t clear what exactly “better” means. Encourage your student to hone in on exactly what they need to do to become the student they want to be. In this case, perhaps they struggle with organization and often forget to complete assignments on time.
Specific Goal: I will write all of my assignments and important dates in a planner each day so that I can be more organized and manage my time better.
2) Make Sure It’s Measurable
Once your student has made a specific goal, the next step is to determine how they’re going to measure it. This will help them track progress and determine whether or not they’re making successful strides along the way.
For example, many students set a goal to get better grades, but this isn’t measurable because it lacks quantifiable criteria for success.
Measurable Goal: I will get at least a 90% on every math exam.
3) Ask Yourself: Is It Attainable?
Sometimes we get so caught up in what we want to achieve that we forget to consider if it’s actually attainable. Before your student starts working towards their goal, help them determine if it’s something they can realistically accomplish. A goal should be challenging and require hard work, but it shouldn’t be impossible.
If they conclude that their goal is too lofty, encourage them to think of a smaller goal that can serve as a stepping stone towards eventually achieving the larger goal. Let’s consider the following examples for a typical 12-year-old.
Unrealistic Goal: I will write a 200-page book.
Realistic Goal: I will write one full page in my journal each day.
4) Ensure That It’s Relevant
If your student has determined that they can achieve their goal, the next step is to decide if the effort is worth it. In other words, does the goal actually matter to them? If they don’t find their own goal relevant and worthwhile, then they’ll be far more likely to abandon it when an obstacle arises.
Another thing to consider when determining relevance is whether or not it’s the right time to tackle this specific goal. For example, completing 10 college scholarship applications is a relevant goal for a high school senior, but it typically isn’t for a ninth grader.
5) Set a Time Limit
The final step to SMART goal setting for students is to add a deadline. Having a time limit in mind will help your student set milestones to stay on track. Creating a timeline can also be more motivating than leaving a goal open-ended because it adds a sense of urgency.
Time-Bound Goal: Read 24 chapter books in one year.
With this deadline in mind, the student can break their goal up by creating smaller objectives to help them stay on track. To ultimately succeed at reading 24 books in one year, they would have to read two books per month (finishing one new book every other week).
Smart Goal Examples for Students
Now that you know the five components of a SMART goal, let’s look at some SMART goal examples for students.
Example 1: I will increase my overall chemistry grade from an 85% to a 95% or higher by the end of the fourth marking period by studying for 15 minutes each school night.
Example 2: I will make it on the varsity basketball team next winter by practicing shooting for one hour a day and doing workout drills three times per week.
Example 3: I will make at least four new friends this year by joining a bowling team.
All three of the goals above are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant (assumed), and time-bound.
How to Help Students Achieve SMART Goals
We all do better at working towards our goals when we have someone in our corner to support us. Here are a few ways you can help your student accomplish their SMART goals.
- Write the goal down and put it somewhere they can see often
- Foster a growth mindset
- Provide students with a tool to monitor progress (like a weekly goal chart)
- Have occasional check-in meetings to get updates
- Celebrate successes and small victories along the way
With a little bit of guidance, your students will be well on their way to making their goals a reality. We hope this article is a helpful tool to encourage SMART goal setting for students.
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