For many of us, a new year signifies a shift – new beginnings, fresh starts, renewed aspirations and recommitments to our goals and intentions in the world and for ourselves.

As we settle back into school, it’s a great time of year to initiate some new goals.  We know that goal setting is a powerful tool that gives us direction, provides clarity and focus, and motivates us to work towards our aspirations.  However, many of us set goals that are ineffective at pushing us to do our best.  Researcher Edwin Locke found that individuals who set specific, difficult goals performed better than those who set general, easy goals.  


Instead of reaching for the stars, we often (subconsciously) limit ourselves, convincing ourselves and children that we need to be ‘realistic’ and ‘stay grounded’.  Fear of failure often trumps our ability to embrace the growth mindset concepts we are trying to nurture in our students.

Yet, at the same time we often say to our students and children ‘ Dream big, the sky’s the limit!’. Yet, we don’t often LOOK UP – literally; I mean at the sky!  Today most of us are too busy looking down at our phones and the ground. Looking up at the stars and the vastness of the universe enthuses a sense of wonder and awe.  This expands our consciousness, reminding us of the possibilities and the options that are available to us, ignites curiosity and creativity, and inspires us with a broader, wider perspective which encourages us to expand and grow!

This year, or next month, whenever you’re ready – DREAM BIG!  Give yourself permission to really think and dream big.  We live in an abundant universe.  Look up at the sky – star gaze, wonder, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll see your dreams and hopes expanding bigger and brighter!

Regardless of how you’ve faired on your past goals, see if you can truly start fresh – the 2019 version of yourself who can engage wonder and aspire for more….

Check out these strategies for both you and your students or staff:

  • Structure Goal Setting: Although I appreciate a solid SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound), I find researcher, Edwin Locke’s criteria which adds the feedback element really effective.  As you and your students work to incorporate goals, consider using the following criteria:
    • Clarity: Is your goal measurable?  How will you know if you’ve completed it?
    • Challenge: Is the level of difficulty enough to keep you motivated?  Are you pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone into your stretch, (not panic!) zone?
    • Commitment: Who can hold you accountable to your goals and success?  How will you ensure you won’t bail out on yourself?
    • Feedback: Determine a timeline to check in and re-evaluate your goal:  Was it too hard? long? Easy? What needs to be adjusted? Remember, this is not failure, this is growth!
    • Task complexity: Set yourself up for success by being realistic about the complexity of your goal – ensure you have enough time to truly embrace the learning curve!  If you’re really challenging yourself, you should expect some setbacks as you learn to blaze a new trail!
  • Encourage both personal and academic goals: This is a great way to support the growth of the whole child and remind students that you care about them personally as well as you do academically.  (You do care and we know that, but the research shows that what’s most important is that our students THINK we care.  And if you’ve ever spoken to a student who was upset, you know he/she doesn’t often think that!)
    • Create scaffolds: Have students determine a few steps towards their goals in time increments. Just as you would support students in creating timelines for project-based learning, setting goals requires the same steps.
    • Revisit goals consistently: Whether it’s weekly or monthly, have students check in and adjust or revise their goals or steps towards achievement. This is the crucial piece!
    • Embed growth mindset principles: Create class discussions around the process:
      • How does thinking and feeling shift when we accomplish something?
      • How does it feel when we come up short?
      • What are the messages we need to embrace in our self-chatter to break through?
      • What enables people to move forward when they are struggling?
  • Set Accountability Partners – and schedule regular check-ins. It seems the truth is we’d rather disappoint ourselves than others.  So, use this to your advantage; find a partner to hold you accountable to simply ask, “Hey, how did you do on… ?”.  You might be surprised how much you’re willing to do just to be able to say, ‘Yes!  I did do something!”  The research shows we are more successful when we share our goal with someone and say it out loud!  Essentially, we are more likely to keep at it when someone is cheering us along!
  • Create a time capsule: Aside from goal setting, you can also experience growth from reviewing your thoughts. Simply ponder some questions and write out your responses which will then be put away in a time capsule until the end of the school year.  During the last week of school, give students back their papers and allow them to read and reflect on what they wrote.  It will remind your students of their growth, how they’ve changed over time and how their thinking or priorities have shifted. I often I found my students found humor in what they ‘used to think or worry about’. Super powerful!  We are able to look back at pictures of ourselves and laugh and wonder, but not at our thinking; this exercise allows us to do just that and gives us a clear picture how we’ve evolved. This could also inspire daily journaling, a proven, effective tool for self-growth and stress management.
    • Questions to consider: 
      • What are your hopes for this semester? Personally? Socially? Academically?
      • What will you be involved in:  activities/hobbies? Sports/theatre?
      • What do you wonder about? Who will be my friends?  How will … turn out? What will be the outcome of…?
      • What do you predict will happen? Academically? Socially? Personally?
      • What’s upcoming that you’re looking forward to or dreading? Why?  How do you think it will pan out?
  • Include a Consultancy Protocol: As students are working on their goals, they will most likely come up against some challenge or struggle – remember it should be a stretch goal!  TROIKA is an activity from liberating structures that unleashes ideas and supports from peers in a collaborative structure.  In groups of three, students share their struggles or problem and seek out ideas and supports from the ‘consultants’.  The key to this, however, is that after the ‘client’ shares her issue, she turns her back and is focused on just listening to the consultants.  This is an amazing experience that encourages clarity, listening, brainstorming, problem-solving and communication.  Amazing tool!  Read here for the full implementation:

Finally, often our goals require that we change our habits.  We are habitual beings wired for survival.  We are always looking to conserve calories and do the easiest thing.   So, when you come up against a new habit, know that it’s estimated that it takes 21 days or three full weeks to really shift the habit and start rewiring the brain.  Stay the course!  Dig deep for those first three weeks, whether you’re trying to decrease your sugar intake, increase your fruits and veggies or make more time for yourself!  And when you get frustrated or feel a setback, look up at the sky, give yourself some grace and know tomorrow you can try again!     

1 Comment

  1. Most people have heard of SMART goals and as you talk about pushing our limits and extending ourselves I feel like Edwin Locke’s piece extends those intentions in a very positive and productive way. The better defined our goals and intentions the more committed and successful we will be, this is the ‘nudge’ I needed for 2019!

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