Help Students Set SMART Goals for the New Year

6 min to read
A Learning Coach mother and her son are working on an online assignment together at Connections Academy.

What goals do you have for your child this year? And perhaps more importantly, what goals has your child set for themselves heading into the new year?

The fact is, a new year—with a fresh calendar and a universal spirit of New Year’s resolutions—is a natural time for students to reflect on how much they have done in the year and set goals for what they would like to accomplish in the months ahead. Having specific goals can help students stay focused and plan their time most effectively.

Experts say it’s much harder to reach goals if they are not written down and expressed clearly. A favorite way to correct this is by using “SMART” goals.

What is a SMART goal?

A SMART goal is one developed using the acronym SMART as a guide.

SMART stands for:

Time bound

While the SMART goal system is well-known in the workplace, it is an excellent approach for academic and personal goals as well. Following the SMART acronym ensures that the goal is realistic and includes not only a brief plan of action but also a clearly defined method of evaluating whether or not the effort has been successful.

By using the SMART goal-setting system with your child, you can teach them a valuable life skill and help establish a pattern of achievement year-over-year.

A typical goal for a student might be “I want to get better grades.” Admirable, but not SMART.

Here’s a version that is smarter but not quite SMART: “I will get at least a B in all my math and science classes.”

Instead of stating a goal without establishing any other parameters, here is how to phrase the desire to get improved grades as a SMART goal: “In each of my math and science classes [specific] this semester [time bound], I will earn at least a grade of B [measurable]. I can do this [attainable] by taking careful notes in class, asking my teacher for help when a concept is not clear, and seeking a tutor’s assistance if I’m still struggling. I won’t play video games or hang out with friends until my homework is completed each night [relevant].”

By using a SMART goal for students, you’ll be able to help your child not just set clearer goals, but also establish a better action plan and establish accountability for achieving those goals. While this approach works well for students of all ages, it can be especially helpful for middle and high-school aged students to help set targets for school SMART goals as well as other areas of life.

Image of a Learning Coach mom and her son working on an online assignment together.

How to Help Students Set SMART Goals

Whether your student is tasked with setting SMART goals in school, or it’s something you want to help them do for their own planning efforts going into the new year, there are a few ways parents can help students maximize the efficiency of SMART goal setting.

1. Let your student drive the ideation of their goals

First, it’s important that goals come from the child rather than be imposed on them. Choosing their own goals helps ensure that the goal is important to them, and as a result, they will be more naturally motivated to work toward it.

Some students might easily come up with their own goals, but younger students might need help spark some ideas. According to Susan Bosak, creator of the Legacy Project, which encourages children to set goals and embrace the future with creativity, asking the student about what they are studying in school is a good way to begin. By encouraging them to think about how they feel about what they are studying, they may be more likely to uncover their interests, and Learning Coaches can help them explore those interests, quite possibly envisioning them as careers or life-long passions.

This can help kids set long-term goals and begin to view schooling as a way to achieve them.

2. Focus on process, not outcome in setting goals

While determining a clear goal outcome is a key component of SMART goal setting for students (that is the role of the “M" in “SMART” goals — how exactly will the goal be measured?), it can be helpful to focus more on process rather than outcome in evaluating what might make a good, achievable goal for students.

Rather than dwell on letter grades and report cards (particularly if grades were low), encourage your student to consider how they feel about their learning. Was there a topic of particular interest? Did they feel confident when doing schoolwork or taking tests? Is there anything they’d do differently in the coming semester? These discussions can help  you and your student work as a team to define relevant goals and the actions that will ultimately lead to different results.

3. Look outside the classroom for ideas for a SMART goal for students

A good SMART goal for students doesn’t always have to be school-related. Another great tip to encourage a lifelong habit of goal setting is to encourage your child to look outside the classroom for setting goals and measuring success. What other areas of their life are important to them? What would they like to accomplish or learn more about? Considering goals related to their extracurriculars, hobbies, or community involvement is a good way to create a well-rounded set of goals going into the new year.

4. Be a voice of reason when it comes to attainability

It’s important for students not to forget the “attainable” portion of a SMART goal. If a student has been getting low marks in English class, it probably doesn’t make sense to set a goal of scoring 100 percent on all future tests. Instead, take their goal and help them break it down into something more achievable so they don’t become discouraged if their goal is not possible. If they want to improve their low grades, perhaps they could set a goal of studying for an hour each day or visiting a tutor once a week. 

5. Set students up for success with systems that support SMART goal achievement

Regardless of your student’s age, be prepared to lend a hand with breaking their big goals into smaller steps and setting deadlines, which can help keep tasks from becoming overwhelming and ensures that your child’s goal is attainable. To help younger students keep their goals in mind year-round, it will probably suffice to set out the goals on printed paper at their desk or a whiteboard in a common area. Working with your children to set and achieve goals can give you a peek into what’s important to them. With your encouragement, they will learn that they can accomplish their goals, step by step. This experience not only gives them self-confidence but is also an important tool for  in school, career, and life.

Interested in getting more involved in your children’s education this school year? Download our free eGuide to learn more about tuition-free online school, or the Pearson Online Academy website to discover the advantages of online private school.

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