Executive Function Strategies Blog

6 Steps to Successful Goal Setting for Students (and Adults!)

Did you ever notice that September, the beginning of the school year for most students, Start the year off with Smart goalsshares something in common with January, the beginning of the calendar year? Both present a great opportunity to start anew, wipe the slate clean, and make positive changes. For some of us, these starting points might inspire setting goals for fitness, knowledge, or skills we’d like to acquire. For students, the new school year offers opportunities to reflect and to set their own goals for how they’ll improve their approach to schoolwork. And like many of us, those goals we set often start off strong - but without a real plan for how to attain them they sink to the bottom of our priorities and rise again the next year as the very same goal. How can parents - as well as students - start off strong and persist in seeing our goals through? 

First consider the reason for the goal. Most goals come from a place of wanting to better ourselves - focusing on our challenges or areas we need to improve. It is important to remember that students themselves must see the need for their goals and truly want to accomplish them. 

So, what new habit will your child develop to help achieve their goal? Maybe they struggle with organization and would like to keep their materials in order this school year; maybe they struggle with time management and want to plan ahead this year; maybe they struggle with procrastination or getting started and want to jump in and get things done this year. These are just a few of the challenges that face the students we work with as September rolls around. The 6 steps below are a great way to help set your child, student, or even yourself on a path for success. 

6 Steps to Successful Goal Setting

1) Take Ownership: Take time to brainstorm with your child some of the challenges they'll face as we enter this school year. Remember, to see results, your child's goal needs to emerge from them truly wanting to improve something about their life. (In other words, just because you may want their backpack more organized doesn't necessarily mean they want that as their goal.) 

2) Keep It Simple: Focus on one goal area at a time. Even though we may have several things we want to improve, if we get overwhelmed by trying to accomplish too much, we will be right back where we started. So what is it your child could benefit from most?

  • Being more organized? 
  • Managing your time better?
  • Staying focused in class?
  • Planning ahead? 
  • Managing frustration?

3) Make It SMART: When we think of SMART goals, we think of goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. SMART goals provide the roadmap to how you'll work toward your objectives. SMART goals can often start with a fuzzier big-picture goal. Below, you'll see some examples of how to turn "fuzzy" goals into something sharp that invites real action.

  • BIG PICTURE GOAL: I want to be more organized. While an admirable goal, do you notice there's no "how" here? There's no way to judge whether you're working toward the goal when you keep at this vague level.
    • SMART GOAL: I will stay organized by filing important papers into different colored folders for each subject and recycling unneeded papers at the end of each school day, leaving no loose papers in my locker or backpack. 
  • BIG PICTURE GOAL: I want to manage my time better and get my school work done.
    • SMART GOAL: In order to better manage my time, I will start homework as soon as I arrive home at 4pm and avoid my phone and TV until 6pm or until all homework is complete. 
  • BIG PICTURE GOAL: I want to stay focused in class and ignore distractions.
    • SMART GOAL: During class times, I will ignore distractions by keeping my cell phone in my backpack, sitting in the front of the room, and taking detailed notes in a notebook designated for each class. 
  • BIG PICTURE GOAL: I want to stop procrastinating.
    • SMART GOAL: As homework, the day a project or assignment is given, I will break the project into steps and create personal deadlines leading up to the due date in order to plan ahead and avoid procrastination

4) Track your progress: SMART goals are measurable, so each week help your child reflect on their progress. Ask your child:

  • Have you stuck to your goal? If not, what is holding you back? 
  • Is it a realistic goal for you or is there something you need to change to make it more attainable? 
  • What specifically will you do next week to make sure you come closer to success?  

5) Celebrate your accomplishments: Each week as you and your child reflect on progress, be proud of the small things they are accomplishing. They may not have all the pieces in place yet, but take the time to recognize those attempts forward.

6) Continue owning that new habit: This is not just a goal; this is your child's new self! They have accomplished what they thought they couldn’t! Encourage your child to keep it up, create new goals, and continue to improve their life.

We all know how difficult reaching our goals can be and how rewarding it can feel to attain them. By following these steps, you make it much more likely that a student’s (or your own) intended behavior becomes a reality. Don’t forget to support your child, while holding them accountable. It is OK to allow for a misstep here or there; the important thing is to get back on track. 

Students, the whole school year is ahead of you - how will you make it one you feel proud of?

Photo by Anna Samoylova on Unsplash


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