Happy New Year! Meaningful Goal Setting and Action Stepsby Kimberly Fox
Hello, 2023! If your internet is anything like mine, yours has been filled to the brim with posts about healthy living, creating time for self-care, being a more patient partner, and being a better human right now. Because it’s January. My internet is also full of posts about how setting unrealistic expectations (aka resolutions) at this time can often lead us to feel inadequate! I’ve definitely been there, setting goals like, “Floss more,” only to lose steam after a few times. We know that goals help us grow, and we know that some goals are better than others. “Eat healthier” can be big and vague, whereas something specific can feel more attainable, say “Include a vegetable with every dinner.” We also do well when we have someone to talk to, a friend or a partner, to share when the goal work is going well AND when we feel overwhelmed by our aspirations! And it’s important to know when a goal needs to change or be replaced with a new goal. Perhaps the goal of eating veggies every night has turned into five nights of steamed broccoli and you might change the goal, saying “Cook one new vegetable every week,” or maybe you’ve incorporated veggies into your dinner and now it’s become a habit and you’re ready for a new goal entirely! Perhaps flossing? HA!
Goals are great for focusing our efforts, and with support and guidance, they can help us feel accomplished and focused. This time of year does have a way of feeling fresh and new. December chugged along, and suddenly you were on a break. Two weeks of something different than work. More time with family or time with yourself, and now we are back at it with our busy schedules, school routines, and of course, students. January feels very different from the fall, when your students were new to you, perhaps needing a bit more structure and patience from you, and now they are older and understand your routines a bit more. Goal setting for our students allows them to reflect on themselves and work towards something, which can feel really good. It’s also a great way to recharge! Goals can be class-wide, support a few kids, or be individual. The key is to get kids thinking and talking about their learning, to see that they are on a trajectory, always working on something for themselves and for their classroom community.
If your class is new to goal-setting, a class goal is a great way to start layering in language around reflection and planning in a community where we are all working towards the same objective. Class goals can be focused on transitions, say, “Clean up after choice time in 5 minutes,” or stamina, “Write for 20 minutes,” or work on a particular skill. Below I have included a class goal for a kindergarten class to add more labels to their writing. We created a goal as a class, getting kids to share WHY the goal was important, then for a few days, we gave a ton of feedback around the goal, complimenting, reminding, and sharing tools that might help. After about two weeks, we checked in. How was the goal going? Did it feel easy or hard to reach the goal? Do we need to change the language of the goal or create a new goal entirely? The whole process helped kids get more letters down on the page, but it also helped us as adults give consistent feedback because we knew what we were looking for as well!
As kids acclimate to this process, we can start to give kids goals that are more tailored to the needs of a few kids in the room. It can help us differentiate goals for different learners, but kids still have someone to talk to and reflect with as they work towards their goals. Introducing the goal to a group of kids in a small group can give kids a chance to work on the goal, give, and get feedback from their peers, with you as the adult close by. As the group comes to a close, you can talk about ways the partnership or club might meet to work together and discuss how the goal is going. The purpose of this type of work is not necessarily to get kids to be 100% proficient at a particular skill, but instead to engage them in the process of studying themselves as learners and taking action. Below is an example of a club recording sheet used in this process. Perhaps as a group in the first session, you write up the goal and reflect a bit after kids practice. Then, the sheet can stay with the group to be used over the next week or two. Finally, you can regroup to talk through challenges and make plans for next steps.
Individual goals can be made by the students themselves or during a 1:1 conference with you. You’ll want to talk through what parts of the work are going well, what feels easy, and what strategies might help. The more input from the child we can get, the better, but kids might need support coming up with language to create their goals. You’ll want to make the goal as prominent as possible for the student, having a consistent place where a visual lives, perhaps in a reading notebook or writing folder. Below, I have shared a student’s writing goal. He was working on adding more emotion to his writing, and in his folder was a chart to support him in this work. The post-it left by the teacher after a conference had a dependable location that the child (and teacher!) could refer to regularly. It’s also a simple structure to revise as the student develops consistency with this skill.
Whether you are creating goals for a whole class, a small group, or individual students, the important piece of goal setting is the intentional time to check in with the student, to revise or change, to celebrate the process along the way! Creating regular times to check in with students, perhaps during a conference once a week, can help tremendously. A few questions, such as “How are you working on your goal?” or “Can you show me part of your writing where you were working on your goal?” help kids to reflect on their work between conferences with you. Regular check-ins make the work feel both relevant and help you adjust as needed.
Finally, consider a goal for yourself as an educator. It doesn’t have to be huge, but perhaps you are hoping to add a few more professional texts or maybe you would like to plan more efficiently. Pick SOMETHING, then think about what you can do to work on this goal now, as in this week. You probably aren’t going to finish two professional texts this week, but you might commit to a chapter. And as with our students, check in regularly! How is the goal going? What needs tweaking or even abandoning? Be kind to yourself, teaching can be hard, and find little ways to celebrate the work you do.
Happy New Year!