Jan 04, 2021


After I realized that the ‘19’ in COVID-19 was a pretty good description of my potential weight gain, I decided to work with a personal trainer on a weekly basis in a COVID safe way.

This worked for about five weeks and then a new set of restrictions came into play.

But I was determined, so I set up a personal daily exercise program that included weights, stretches, and walking. I even set up a tracking document. I found a location in my home to exercise. I got my equipment ready.

My daily program plan was guaranteed to lead to success. So, I got started.

I continue to dust the weights weekly (not part of my goal setting) and, if my dog Kevin hadn’t asked to go for a walk at least four times a day, I might not have managed the walking goal either!

CHANGING A HABIT is hard! Most humans need support. We can’t just set a goal. We can’t just make plans. We can’t just purchase equipment. We have to make a new habit.

So, here I am on the brink of a new year, resetting my goal of good health. What am I going to do to ensure I have success? I’m going to learn from successful teachers.

Time-tested steps to teaching and achieving successful goal setting include:

  • Goals are realistic, practical, and possible.
  • Goals are in writing. Whether a goal is written down on a piece of paper or recorded in a goal-setting app, it is more likely to be tracked and achieved.
  • Specific goals are set. Rather than “Be a better writer”, go for specificity, such as, “I want to write openings that grab my reader’s attention.”
  • Collaboration is built in. Students do not need to set goals in a vacuum. As teachers and parents, we can help students to set goals by asking questions, giving feedback, offering options, and committing to provide assistance.
  • Community support. We can’t achieve success alone – it takes a community. Teachers help by planning to have students find others to support their success and keep them company on their journey.
  • Create a plan. Once a goal has been identified, build a plan that makes sense. Plans can include responses to questions like: Why is this goal important? What will you do specifically to meet it? When will you work on it? What evidence can you collect to prove that you are working on your goal? How can I help you to meet your goal?
  • Provide feedback. Teachers and parents can help students to work towards their goal by giving them feedback along the way. And when that feedback is specific and descriptive, then students can see what they need to keep doing and what they might need to do differently. For example, “I noticed that in the beginning of your story, you used strong words like ‘exciting’ and ‘colourful’. As you revise it, you might want to consider adding a bit of dialogue to introduce us to the main character.” This provides greater specificity than a simple statement like “This is a good start. Make sure to re-read it and make it a bit more interesting.”
  • Celebrate. When students reach their goals, pause and celebrate. Remember, success breeds even more success.
  • Stretch just beyond reach. Goals should absolutely be a challenge and take the learner someplace new, but goals should be just within reach. If a goal is unattainable, then setbacks or lack of progress can be demoralizing. We want our students to be realistic and confident learners and goals that are attainable with effort and perseverance can propel learning forward in positive ways.

Goal-setting is a critical part of how children can become self-regulating, independent, and resourceful learners. And, let’s be honest, teachers LOVE to have classes full of students who are engaged and focused on achieving their goals! Why? Because every teacher knows that EMOTION drives ATTENTION and attention drives LEARNING!


Classroom Examples:

This Grade 1 teacher listed Math goals on the back of her door. Each student, with teacher modelling and support, placed their name card on the goal they were currently working on. On the back of each student’s card, the teacher recorded the date that the goal was met (see image).

Elementary Math Examples

A similar strategy was used by another elementary teacher who was teaching in an online environment. She used a Jamboard to have students identify a writing goal (see image). The teacher selected the areas of writing that the class would be focusing on in the next term. The students put their names on virtual sticky notes and placed them by the aspect of writing that they knew, based on feedback and past writing experience, was an area of necessary growth and progress.

Elementary writing goals


Leadership Example:


As leaders, we also know that setting goals is important for learners to do; it is not only a curricular expectation, but it helps students to remain motivated and on track. When we model the setting of goals to both energize and move learning forward, we bring alignment of expectations to our schools and systems.

A group of three principals identified that, in these times of online and hybrid learning environments, they needed to learn more about technology and how it could be leveraged in support of teaching and learning across a variety of platforms. They wanted to dig deeply into the technology itself and its power to engage students.

Together, they created a simple plan. Each person examined one of three platforms for:

  • its strengths and limitations, and
  • the ways in which strong instructional strategies (e.g., co-constructing criteria, small group discussion, collection of evidence from observations, sharing of samples) could be implemented on that platform.

Every three weeks, they gathered together virtually and reported out on what they had discovered. Additionally, every month, they briefly informed their staff about what they were learning. This included brief demonstrations. In this way, they signalled to their teachers that they, too, were on a steep learning curve, pushing their understanding in an area that had been, to this point, relatively unknown.

When goal-setting is viewed as one of 7 Actions of Assessment for Learning, rather than an isolated event, we can move beyond good intentions and hopes of improvement. When we know where we’re going, what success looks like, and receive feedback in relation to that success criteria, we can set goals and self-monitor our way to success.