All of Your Smart Goals in the Classroom Questions Answered

setting goals in the classroom

Setting goals, as an adult or child, is a great way to grow!

It tells the world that you know what you want to accomplish, and you are ready to overcome any obstacles that may come in your way. That feeling of determination is something that I want my students to experience. 

Right at the start of the school year, my students set attainable SMART goals, create a plan of action, and then self-progress monitor themselves as they work towards meeting their goals. 

The entire experience of goal setting is empowering for students as they take ownership on growing academically, socially, and emotionally on different areas throughout the year. What I love about working with students to create their own SMART goals is that it helps to build positive relationships with students right from the start of the year. 

If you are wondering how to effectively have students create goals and meet them this school year, here are some answers to questions you may have. Grab a pen, take notes, or pin for later, so that you are prepared to kick off the school year setting student SMART goals.

What is a SMART goal?

A smart goal is a self-selected goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and trackable. Setting SMART goals are individualized and specific to the needs and wants of each student. By setting SMART goals, students have a focus to help them grow in an area that they feel they want or need to improve.

goal setting upper elementary

How do you introduce SMART goals with students?

Students need to understand the concept of setting goals that are specific to their needs, design action plans to meet the goal that they set, and how to check in on their progress. Here is a quick outline to help introduce the concept of goal setting with your upper elementary students.

  • To introduce students to goal setting concepts, I read the book*, Salt in His Shoes,written by Deloris Jordan. This picture book tells the story of Michael Jordan setting goals, creating an action plan, and working to meet the goals he set. This read aloud is a great way to get the students discussing goals that they want to meet this school year and also pairs nicely with growth mindset discussions and lessons.  Or you can read one of these goal-setting books that I love HERE.
  • There is nothing more valuable than getting your students' parents and guardians involved in setting the first goal of the school year. Send home a simple questionnaire for students to complete with their parents to brainstorm and select different areas that students can focus on when setting goals. This gives you the opportunity to see what hopes and wishes the parents have for their children for the school year. (See the form that I send home HERE.)
  • Go over the acronym of SMART so students can digest each element of setting SMART goals. Students should know what each letter of SMART stands for to help them plan out their own goals. Since setting goals is an ongoing process for the school year, create a bulletin board of SMART goal resources that will help students as they create different goals throughout the year.

How do students select a SMART goal?

By the time that students will be formally setting their own goals, they will have had a chance to think about different areas of focus. For the first SMART goal of the year you might choose to have everyone work on a goal in the same area, for example math. This would mean that every student is working on a math goal, but their individualized math goals are all different. Some students might be focused on problem solving, others on fact work. Or, you might have students select any goal that they want to kick the school year off with. There is no right or wrong way to have kids select goals.  

Whichever you choose, follow these two quick steps:

  • Interview each student individually to get to know their strengths and weaknesses. This is a quick process with many benefits. Not only will it help you to get to know students on a personal level, but it will help you to guide students on creating the best SMART goal for them. (Grab the interview form that I use for FREE at the bottom of this post.)
  • Brainstorm. Have students use pencil and paper to record all of the different ideas that they have. They can use SMART goal sentence starters to help. I always use an inverted triangle brainstorming sheet to help kids get very specific. When students have specific goals, it is easier to set an action plan and monitor their progress. Be sure to model the process of brainstorming so that the students truly understand what is expected.

setting goals back to school

How can students self-progress monitor their goal work?

Have students create an action plan to help meet their goals. Their action plans will be specific to the topic that they have for their goal, but can include simple steps such as:

  • spending more time checking my work
  • reading more challenging books
  • asking for help when needed
  • creating my own practice fact cards

Be sure to help students know where they can go in the classroom for extra support materials and tasks on the topic of their goal. One way you can do this is by having different buckets of support materials in math and language arts. When they know there are support materials in place, they can add that to their action plan. 

Another way to add support for students is by providing them with appropriate websites to support their goals. Students will instantly become invested in meeting their goals and will look forward to doing any additional activities that they have listed on their action plan, especially during small pockets of downtime in the classroom.

Once students have their action plan in place, set a schedule for students to self-monitor how they are progressing towards meeting their goals. Starting with a weekly check-in is a great way to send the message to the students that setting and monitoring goals is something that you value. Be sure to hold students accountable by having them complete check-in forms. It can be a quick response to one or two questions that you pose, or something more detailed. As long as students are being held accountable it will help you track how students are doing. 

back to school goal setting

The goal has been met, now what?

Celebrate! This is the best time to teach students that goal setting is ongoing. Once students have reached a goal, celebrate it, and have them set another goal. Students will be reaching goals at different times throughout the year and that is ok. Once students understand how to set goals, they will easily be able to set a new goal. I encourage students to focus on a different area for each new goal. Remember goals that students set can be academic, social, or behavioral. Encourage students to mix up which types of goals that they are setting.

Setting SMART goals is a great way to kick off the school year and set the tone for students that they will be working hard this year as individuals meeting their own goals. It also helps you to build strong relationships with students on an individual level, showing each and every student that you are invested in their success. By doing this, you are setting up a positive climate in your classroom where students feel valued. 

Check out my favorite goal-setting activities HERE

LOVE these ideas? Pin to save!

back to school goal setting

*affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.” (source: Section 5)



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