2-Minute Strategies 2-MIN. READ

A Quick Guide to Goal Setting with Students

By: Joe Flick 09/26/2023
Learn how to implement student goal setting in your classroom.
Two young learners celebrate their success in the classroom.

What does a great day in the classroom look like? For me, there are smiles all around, and I hear student voices. They are excited to learn, ready to work, willing to learn from their mistakes, and eager to participate. By goal setting with students, I see more and more of these great days in my classroom. 

Why Is Goal Setting Important for Students?

1. Goals Provide Focus

Regardless of grade, setting goals helps students direct their effort and attention. Instead of completing tasks without context, having goals in place answers questions like, “Why am I doing this?,” “Why should I work so hard?,” or “What do I need to do to get there?” Working toward a defined, personal goal allows your students to see the bigger picture of where they are focusing their energy. 

2. Goals Promote Confidence

Confidence is a delicate balance—you don’t want your students to think they need to be perfect. I make sure my classroom is a place where students aren’t afraid to make mistakes. They know failure isn’t bad. Growth comes when students are willing to step outside their comfort zone to reach their goals. When they do, they get a huge confidence boost. With greater confidence comes a willingness to take on greater challenges, take more risks, and bounce back from failure quickly. 

3. Goals Foster Engagement

When you begin to establish goals with your students and not for your students, you help them hone their focus and increase their engagement. Students will show more excitement about reaching their goals when they are the ones to set them. When I go home with energy, and my students go home tired, I know they’ve been engaged in meaningful learning that day.

How Do You Figure Out the Right Goals for Each Student?

1. Ask Questions

Asking questions like, “What do you want to learn this year?” helps students begin to articulate their larger goals. Find out what they already know, where they may be struggling, and what they want to focus on improving. Once you’re aware of your students’ objectives, you can help shape their learning paths. 

Meeting groups of two to four students with similar abilities can help you facilitate the goal-setting process and create an environment in which students see that everyone’s working toward mastering a new skill/concept.

2. Guide Student Goals

Sometimes students will set a general goal like “learn multiplication,” which doesn’t align with a realistic growth path. To master that larger concept, your students may need to start with smaller foundational goals, like “learn to skip-count by twos.” As teachers, it’s important that we understand the prerequisite skills students need to learn more complex concepts, so we can provide a linear path to success. Being an expert in the scope and sequence of the curriculum helps you guide your students to meet their goals.

3. Set Students Up for Success

My motto for goal setting is “student-directed goals with a teacher-driven timeline.” You can set your students up for success by determining a realistic timeline for their goals that encourages them to keep going. It’s beneficial to set benchmarks that can be completed in a short time frame so students can see early progress. Maybe you set goals for just one class period, a whole week, or the entire year. Just make sure your students have the opportunity early on to see their progress and that their larger, more ambitious Stretch Growth® goals are attainable.

How Do You Maintain Momentum with Student Goals?

1. Establish Relevance

How will your students use their new skills in the real world? Showing students how they will apply what they’ve learned outside the classroom will help them understand the relevance of their goals that will serve them far beyond a test or a single school year. 

2. Give Feedback

Sharing your students’ excitement as they work toward their goals is a great way to keep them motivated. Saying something as simple as, “Wow, you’re already halfway to your goal! Keep working hard” goes a long way.

3. Celebrate Success

When your students reach their goals, make sure to celebrate! I have a wall of fame in my classroom on which students can place a star with their name on it every time they reach a goal. Their classmates join in celebrating their achievement, and I often communicate with parents to share the good news. 

After 21 years of teaching, I’ve spent a lot of time setting goals with students. My ultimate advice is to try to make your classroom culture as student centered as possible. When students are in the driver’s seat of their own learning, reaching their goals is so much more meaningful. 

For more on goal setting from Joe, listen to this episode of the Extraordinary Educators™ Podcast.