The start of a new school year is a little like the new calendar year in that it’s a great time to take a moment to be reflective about the previous year and set some goals for the upcoming year.  In thinking about that for myself I came across a useful acronym that can serve as a goal-making guide, SMART.  During the research process I learned that different people have determined different meanings for the various letters, some even adding an “ER” at the end to have even SMARTER goals.  But all the different versions have the same intent, to help you create goals that have a high likelihood of realization.

S: Small and Specific. 

You need to be able to define the goal clearly in order to accomplish the other parts of the process.  If the goal is too big, the learner may run out of steam or interest before reaching the goal.  If it’s too vague it will becomes difficult to determine whether you met the goal at all.

M: Measurable. 

This is also key to determining whether you met the goal.  How will you determine that?  What evidence will you use?

A: Attainable.

You are looking for just the right amount of challenge here.  If the goal is too easy to reach it’s not a fulfilling or worthwhile process but if the goal is too hard to reach it sets learners up for frustration and likely a feeling of failure.

R: Relevant. 

If it’s not relevant, why do it?  Whoever works toward this goal needs to understand and actually care about the purpose.  Sometimes it is a challenge for teachers to help students become invested or see the purpose of the goal but if they don’t, chances for success greatly diminish.  Allowing the students to create their own goals (with your guidance) will increase ownership and commitment.

T: Time-Bound.

Having a specific end date or time frame helps everyone keep on track and stay focused.  You have now determined what the goal is, how it will measure, why it is important, and finally, when it should be met.  That’s a SMART goal.  But if you want to be even SMARTER, read on!

E: Evaluate.

When you have reached the predetermined time, the goal needs to be evaluated.  Has it been reached?  If not, does it need to be adjusted or redefined?  Is it still relevant?

R: Record and Reflect.

When pursuing a goal, you should have some way of tracking and recording progress along the way. When the time-frame is reached, there should be a place for recording the achievement and for reflecting on the process (like in a journal or portfolio, for example).  Once the goal is achieved it’s time to savor the success!  If the goal has not been reached, there needs to be a Reflection as to what can be done differently or a Redefining of the original goal.  You may even have a Reward portion here.  Perhaps reaching the goal is reward enough or perhaps there is a way to Rejoice in the success and Reinforce the achievement or new learned behavior!

In the past I have been guilty of the unspecific, the unmeasurable, and the unattainable goal.  I recently implemented SMART goals for myself personally and professionally. I found the acronym a great tool to keep me from the aforementioned pitfalls.  As you head into this new year, it’s a great time to think about how you can set important goals for yourself and how you can help your students learn to create attainable goals for themselves.  Writing SMART or SMARTER goals may just be the key to achieving them.