Back to School: Setting Goals for School This Year

The start of the new school year can feel like New Year’s Eve: filled with hope, promise, and resolutions. New Year’s resolutions are not exactly known for sticking. Setting meaningful and actionable goals for school is far more likely to get us where we want to go.

Teaching your children to set goals is a valuable life skill. You can work with your children at each grade level to strengthen this skill. Through goal setting, students gain self awareness, self-efficacy, and resilience or “grit.” Here are some guidelines for helping you and your child through the process:

  • Goals have to be meaningful to students. A dream is a great place to start. Ask your kids open-ended questions about their hopes and dreams. Listen for “I wish I could …” This is a great opportunity to develop self awareness.
  • Goals should be specific. Start small with just one personal goal. Keep it simple; break big goals into smaller goals. Next, guide your child in identifying specific strategies and resources that will support the goal.
  • Learning to overcome obstacles is a key benefit of goal setting. Identify when your kids have been successful in the past. Draw on that strength with the message that you know they have what it takes to be successful, to handle difficulties. Ask them what some challenges are and how they can manage them.
  • There are a number of models for goal setting, 4D or Appreciative Inquiry and SMART goals (probably the most common). The SMART goal model is a simple yet effective process. Here’s a video about it from

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Use a graphic organizer for goal setting

Use pictures or clip art to make the goal visual and post it somewhere visible. A bull’s-eye could represent the goal and each strategy and support can be an arrow approaching the target. Include dreams, goals, challenges and the who, what, when, why, and how. Kids can research certain career goals. K12 students do this through a college and career counseling tool known as Pathfinder. There are also a lot of great  goal-setting charts for kids on Pinterest.

Finally, ask questions as part of the goal-setting process, such as:

  • What is important to you?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • Describe a time when you were successful.
  • What is a struggle you have overcome and how did you do so?

Goal setting with your kids is not only a great skill, it is a wonderful way to get to know your child better. You may be surprised by what you learn about your child during these conversations. Practice reflective and nonjudgmental listening. Seek to understand and to convey a belief in their capacity to solve problems and achieve their goals. You will be developing your child’s strengths as well as strengthening your relationship.

According to Greater Good out of Berkeley, “Research on hopefulness, which is all about goal setting, has found that hopeful students use more positive self-talk, helping them to stave off negative emotions when they hit obstacles to their goals.”

Additional Resources

Perseverance and Goal Setting

Goal Setting for Elementary Students

Goal Setting for Teens

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This article was updated August 2015

Image Credit – woodleywonderworks / CC by 2.0



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