by Wendy Taylor, M.Ed, Executive Director, Learning Essentials
It’s that time of year again—the new year, when many of us set impossible goals or make empty promises to ourselves about “bettering” something in our lives. Do you know there’s a better way to set achievable goals?
When I instruct my students about reflecting and goal setting, I use the popular SMART goals method, an acronym that helps direct us to make goals that are, well, smart. The same directives that we use in the classroom to set SMART goals can be easily applied to students’ papers about New Year’s resolutions, a short writing task that I give my students on the first day back from winter break. I, too, will use the SMART goals method to set and reach my own personal New Year’s resolutions this year. But how exactly can we weave SMART goals into resolutions for students?
Let’s take a look!
The acronym varies slightly among teachers and educational resources, but the basic expectations of SMART goals are seen below:
Specific (simple, straightforward)
Measurable (meaningful, monitored)
Achievable (attainable, agreed upon)
Relevant (reasonable/realistic, results-oriented)
Timely (trackable, tangible)
Much like setting SMART goals, students’ New Year’s resolutions should be specific or straightforward, meaning that “Do better in school” would not make the cut. We must prompt students to specify exactly what they hope to change or achieve. Ask questions like, “In which class or classes do you want to see improvement?” “What grade do you consider to be ‘better’?”
A measurable or monitored resolution should be quantifiable; it must involve progress that can be tracked. Ask students how they plan to track or measure the progress, and how often they should check-in, evaluate, or adjust based on the measured progress. For instance, if a resolution is to improve their timed mile run by dropping 30 seconds, encourage them to keep time logs, workout schedules, and other exact measures of their progress.
An achievable resolution is one that is within the realm of reality—and students need to be aware of this fact. Resolutions must be attainable and realistic. While we teachers should not dash dreams or cut anyone short of their highest potential, we also need to help students realize what is and is not achievable in the manner or timeline they have allotted. If a student’s resolution or goal is to win the state’s 1st place mile, but they have never run any sort of distance race, their aim is set much too high. This is not to say that they cannot one day reach that level, but this resolution should detail smaller steps in an effort to reach that point in the future.
Depending on a student’s age, the achievable factor should be agreed upon, meaning that a parent or other adult figure is “in” on the accountability of the resolution. Relevant resolutions should be goals that matter on a larger scale. If a student wants to focus on family time, a resolution might be to keep the cellphone off and away during meals, gatherings, and other family activities. This goal is certainly achievable; there are no outside factors that could disrupt the goal. The student simply has to be mindful of his or her presence during family time. It is relevant because the cell phone is a likely distractor during conversations and meals.
Finally, a timely resolution is one that has a definitive starting point and incremental check-ins. When writing a New Year’s resolution, students should ask themselves, “What can I do today to work towards this? What can I do two weeks from now? Two months from now? What would this resolution look like in 6 months? Working towards the resolution or goal should start right away—as we all know, procrastination is a surefire way to derail our progress.