How to Make Smart Goals that Stick

Every year, I talk to my tween and teen students about the importance of goal setting.  I use the metaphor that life is a car ride.

It's important to enjoy this ride called life.  It's great to take a joy ride occasionally and just enjoy being in the moment.  Eventually though, you'd get tired of getting in the car and driving to random places without a destination or a reason.  Why would you do that with your life?  If you are just going with the flow and letting things happen to you, you really aren't in the driver's seat.  You are a passenger.  Life is about being the driver.  Go where you want to end up, not where somebody else wants you to go. 

Let's face it, if you don't plan your day, your day will plan you.  Many students are living in the moment.  They may have some goals in mind already but they often need fine tuning.  They also need to understand the importance of short term goals (pit stops) that help them reach their dream destination.  Most importantly, goals need to be SMART; specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.






Goals should answer the questions of who, what, when, where, and why.  Who is involved in the goal?  What am I trying to accomplish in the end?  When will I know I'm finished?  Where will this happen?  Why am I doing this in the first place?


A goal needs to be measurable so that you know exactly when it has been attained.  If your goal is to be happy, how would you know when you achieved the amount of happiness that you need?  If you said you wanted to make better grades, you wouldn't be able to measure "better" because it is a relevant term.  You could use measurable number or letter grades.  So a better goal would be to say that you want to make nothing less than a C on your report card.


It's great to set your goals high, but be sure that it is something you can actually achieve.  Saying that you want to be a millionaire by next week would be out of most people's reach.  Be realistic so that you will take your goal seriously.


Is your goal worth the effort?  Does it fit into your overall plan or purpose in life?  Having a goal that speaks to your purpose in life is going to feel more satisfying and you will be more likely to strive for it when the going gets tough.


If you set a time limit on your goal, you will be less likely to procrastinate.  You will know if you are doing enough to achieve the goal in the amount of time that you have. You will also know if you were successful in reaching your goal.  You can always tweak your timeline if it becomes apparent that the time limit is not attainable.


Short Term Goals


What can I start doing right now, today?


Once a student fine tunes their ultimate goals for life, ask them to begin coming up with things they can do today, tomorrow, and the next day that will help them achieve their goals.  For example, a student who wants to play college sports could be creating an exercise plan for this year that would get them physically prepared.

When students see the big picture and realize that what they do today has meaning, they will be more interested in doing a giving their best effort.  This is why teachers relate their lessons to student lives.  They need to have a "stake" in it to make it more meaningful.

Do you have a SMART goals lesson or craft?  I find it easier to give students a craft that allows them to stay on task while I go over the parts of a SMART goal.  Even big kids like to color, cut, and paste!

My students and I are obsessed with Llamas, so this year I am using my updated Llama themed SMART goals flipbook.  They get to take the booklet home with them to remind them of what they learned.

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