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Goal Setting 101: Understanding the Process

Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.
~ Fitzhugh Dodson

Often it's the non-academic curriculum that's most helpful in preparing students for life. Reading and math are important, but organizational skills, social skills, and a knack for finding information on the Internet can lead to big payoffs as well. One area we often overlook, however, is teaching our students how to set goals and create action plans for themselves. Many of us never were taught how to set goals for ourselves, and we only discovered the power of goal-setting later in life. But with a little creativity, we can adapt the strategies used by successful adults and share them with our students.



Goal Setting 101

* Goal Setting 101: Understanding the Process
* Goal Setting 101: The Process in Action
* Goal Setting 101: Setting Individual Goals

Teaching students to set personal goals begins with teaching them to believe in themselves. Many students arrive in our classrooms with a limited view of their own abilities. Before we can teach them to set high goals for themselves, we have to remove those limitations from their thinking. We have to teach them to believe in themselves, because without that belief, they arent likely to achieve their goals. In order to achieve, you must first believe.

So, how can we encourage our students to embrace a future full of unlimited possibilities? Start by showing them how others have overcome obstacles and achieved their goals. Seek out inspirational stories of people who are important to your students, and share those stories with them. Biographies often detail the amazing accomplishments of great people, but a biography of Thomas Edison might not be the best way to inspire today's generation. You'll find newspapers and magazines to be equally rich sources of inspirational stories.

The Olympics provided the perfect opportunity to highlight stories of athletes who have come from humble backgrounds and risen to greatness. How about success stories of singers or movie stars? Seventeen magazine recently featured an inspirational interview with pop singer Taylor Swift, in which she described how she wrote out a very specific set of personal goals long before she became a star. Those stories are everywhere when you start looking for them. Books like Chicken Soup for the Childrens Soul (or Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul) are filled with short inspirational stories that demonstrate the power of belief in oneself and one's abilities. Challenge your students to seek out and share such stories with the class.


About the Author

Laura Candler is a classroom teacher with 27 years experience teaching elementary and middle school. She is a workshop consultant and the author of more than a dozen books for teachers, including Classroom Goal Setting. Laura is also the creator of the Teaching Resources Web site, and offers hundreds of free materials in her online File Cabinet at


When you feel your students are ready to start setting goals for themselves, introduce them to the goal-setting process. First, make sure they know what a goal is by asking students to volunteer goals they or their friends have set for themselves in the past. List their ideas on the board, and discuss the difference between long-term and short-term goals. Short-term goals might include reading a difficult book, earning a perfect score on a spelling test, or arriving at school on time each day for a month. Long-term goals could include goals for the school year, earning a scholarship to college, or dreams about future careers.

Then tell your students that many successful athletes, singers, writers, and business people have discovered a method for achieving their goals, and it's so easy that your students can learn those goal-setting secrets themselves. Display a poster or chart of the Secrets of Goal Setting while you review the steps with your students.

Secrets of Goal Setting

  1. Write clear and measurable goals.
  2. Create a specific action plan for each goal.
  3. Read your goals daily and visualize yourself accomplishing them.
  4. Reflect on your progress to see if you are on target.
  5. Revise your action plans if needed.
  6. Celebrate your accomplishments.

Each step in the process is important, and if you follow the process, you'll increase your chances of success dramatically. Thousands of people have used similar methods to achieve their dreams, and your students can learn to do the same.

For more information and resources for helping students set and achieve both group and individual goals, see Laura Candles Goal Setting and Data Tracking Bundle


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