Research shows that when students don’t set goals, they risk underachievement. But many children still don’t know how to set appropriate goals and track their progress. We touch base with educators from all grade levels, asking their advice on how to jump-start the goal-setting process for parents and students.
Students should be taught early how to be responsible, says Alan Hodak, principal at Fourth Baptist. This includes completing projects well, finishing tasks by doing their best, finishing homework, learning to ask for help so that they can learn and be successful, requiring first-time obedience, and setting attainable, age-appropriate goals at home.
Make it Personal
Students often choose goals they think their parents, friends or teachers want them to achieve, says Julie Ball, campus director for Brightmont Academy, but it is important for students to be encouraged to think about what they want to achieve. “Typically I have students set performance goals on math and reading tests, and we discuss what we do that goes into achieving these goals,” says Marc Wegner, a third-grade teacher at Plymouth Creek Elementary. “They keep track of their progress toward their goal by charting performance scores on a line plot so they can see their progress. I’ve also done SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) goals; they chose which goal they would work on, and ID whether it was academic, behaviorial or work habits.”
Likes vs. Lacks
Hodak says his teachers come alongside parents to help determine what children like and what they lack by partnering in conferences. Fourth Baptist, for example, has a program that helps students tap into their areas of interest so that the school can help them go in a certain direction for college.
Make it Achievable
When setting goals with children, it is important to ensure they are challenging enough, but not too difficult to attain.
Make it Measurable
A goal should include a statement of what will be measured, how it will be measured and when it will be measured. “Students often say they want to do better without taking time to define what that means,” Ball says. “This also helps students evaluate whether or not they have achieved their goal.” Manage time well: Allot time to finish small tasks daily, Hodak says.
Share with Others
Perhaps the most important and most often overlooked aspect: goals are more likely to be reached when they are shared. Students should be encouraged to talk about their goals with parents, teachers, friends and others to help them take ownership.
Revisit and Remind
One of the most common hurdles elementary-age kids stumble over is that sometimes students forget goals they have set if they aren’t revisited. Hodak and Wegner agree it’s essential to remind students of what they are working on and how to get there.
Learn from the Process
Parents also play a crucial role when a goal is not attained. Many students will likely have negative feelings toward themselves when they fail, but parents can create a positive learning opportunity to shift the focus from a missed goal to a learning opportunity to succeed in the future.
Working: A Means to a Goal
Getting a job can help set goals for saving for a car, for college, and giving a portion to a church and to others’ needs, Hodak says. Help your kids see the big picture and the long-term effects—and rewards—of their goals. Remember to celebrate the goal-setting process and this opportunity for children to learn about themselves rather than focusing solely on the outcome. That way, students who don’t achieve their goal are still encouraged to give it another try.
Co-author Julie Ball is the campus director at Brightmont Academy in Plymouth, a private school that specializes in one-to-one instruction for students.