Setting Goals: A Process of Practice

In a world of continuous innovation and exploration, the act of setting goals provides meaningful progress toward success. For Quest Forward Learning students, goal setting provides proactive strategies for self-regulation that will continue  well beyond high school. Goals are not to be confused with New Year resolutions, which almost always fizzle out by February; goal setting should be an ongoing, year-round practice that forms the basis for successful routines. Most importantly, goal setting depends upon continuous personal growth and evolution. How can we, as mentors, support goal setting and management without burning ourselves out in the process? Consider these four steps to building goal setting practices into your classrooms:

Foster a Growth Mindset from Day 1.

Each of your students has unique strengths, passions, and curiosities. All of these should inspirer goal setting. Notice the small steps students take toward achieving their personal best, in whatever form that takes. Model and recognize that mistakes and setbacks are all part of the learning process, and use challenges as opportunities for learning. Most of all, don’t be afraid to share your own personal learning goals with your students.

Develop a plan for achieving goals and measuring progress.

There are infinite ways for students to set goals, and a multitude of strategies to reach them. Becoming consistent in your methods, however, will lead to greater success. At Quest Forward Academy Omaha, students set goals for all their classes using a daily individual tracking guide. Mentors direct students to set reasonable goals specific to each student. In most cases, students set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-driven) goals. Mentors complete an initial check, taking no more than 2-3 minutes to review with students, and then leave students to continue their coursework. These goals are front and center during work time and act as a reference if students aren’t being productive. This example showed great success in providing students with immediate feedback, in addition to building long-term, positive routines.

A daily individual tracking guide may not be best for you and your students, but finding an alternative method (daily, weekly, or monthly) that works for you will set the foundation for creating positive routines. Your school or program may also establish advisor-advisee groups that provide more targeted support for some students.

Take action and measure progress.

Without question, the most difficult aspect of goal setting is to evaluate and identify progress consistently. This becomes increasingly complex when you have a class of 30 students working on 30 unique goals. At Opportunity Education, students are encouraged to take the ownership of their learning, as well as practice the strategies that bring them closer to achieving their goals. Mentors should foster this independence by creating a safe place for taking risks, encouraging peer mentoring, and offering students choices. This is not to say though that students don’t need boundaries, but instead firm but flexible frameworks for completion of tasks. Mentors can also encourage self-monitoring by having students self-record and keep track of their own progress. Students can compare with previous goals or with peers, recording progress along the way. In many cases, small daily wins create a sense of empowerment, which influences how students can  cultivate a sense of accomplishment that translates into their sense of self in the greater community. .

If you are just starting to implement goal setting in your learning environment, you encounter students who will not know which strategies to use, how to use them, or when they will be most effective. Mentors need to model which strategies should be used, and when it is most appropriate to deploy them for the greatest benefit to students. For example, it may be that a larger goal needs to be broken down into smaller (and therefore more achievable) goals, or that students require an accountability partner or more resources in order to achieve their goals.  

Reflect and Revise.

This final phase asks students to manage their emotions, learn from setbacks, and to begin thinking about future planning and goals prior to starting the cycle over again. Not all student effort to set goals will go according to plan, so supporting students’ navigation of missteps and challenges is key. Students can jot down their thoughts about their learning experiences, which encourages metacognition——the ability to look at ourselves from a removed perspective. Additionally, engaging in classroom or small group conversations can induce individual reflections. Reflection and journaling can empower students to find the language that reinforce positive  actions.

At Opportunity Education, our goal is not for students to simply “get an A,”  but instead to strive toward the development of important skills, habits, and course-specific competencies. While setting, monitoring, and achieving goals may come naturally to some, it is not a natural process for most high school students. Quest Forward Learning products, mentors, and schools all play an important role in supporting students in learning how to self-regulate. Supporting students in the process of goal setting is a hallmark of  Quest Forward Learning, and it highlights the ways in which mentors can influence and nurture student paths to self-reliance.

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