You’ve probably made some New Year’s resolutions — and you probably didn’t keep them! Our students also struggle to set and achieve goals but teachers can help with a few simple moves.

According to recent research, a student’s ability to set and achieve goals is linked to higher grades, lower college-dropout rates and greater well-being in adulthood. Goal setting is also a large component of self-management, considered critical to a student’s academic and social success.

So how do we set effective goals? 

As it turns out, there is a science to goal setting that reveals some pretty useful strategies for achieving goals.  

Guide students to make SMART goals. 

You’ve probably heard of SMART Goals, but in case not:

S – Specific. “I will run twice per week” is specific, but “I will run more” is not.

M – Measurable. “I will say more compliments” is measurable, but “I will be nicer” is not. (And to make this goal even better, be specific with the number of compliments and to whom!) 

A – Achievable. “I’ll be the best math student ever” is just not possible (except for one lucky student in history, I guess!). Instead have students aim for a small improvement.

R – Relevant. Get kids to work on goals related to their lives – otherwise, what’s the point?!  

T – Timely. Keep kids focused on a goal by keeping it limited to a week. 

Get momentum through early success.

Achievable goals are important, but it’s still easy to drop off. Studies show that early success can lead to more success. How can you help students with this? Carve out some class time for students to work on achieving their goals on the first and/or second day. 

Work together as a class. 

As a class, come up with a few SMART goals to work on together. For example, “Our goal is have every student in the class complete their homework this week.” Group goals can help drive accountability, participation, and class bonding. 

Have fun.

Goal-setting often focuses on heavy topics. How about setting a goal of how many pennies someone can balance on their nose? Holding breath for 40 seconds? Catching a ball thrown across the baseball field?