Setting Goals with Students: Tips and Strategies

“Goals can have a powerful impact on how we live our lives. They require us to engage in the entire constellation of stances (empathy, flexibility, persistence, resiliency, and optimism) as we set and work towards a specific outcome. Yet perhaps, most importantly, they provide our students with an opportunity to develop their own agency and identity in our classrooms. (Mraz and Hertz)

Last Thursday the PLP Pathways crew got together for the second PLP Pathways webinar of the year. While our main focus was on student goal-setting, we also covered the following topics:

  • The goal-setting process;
  • Family involvement in the goal-setting process;
  • Different literacy strategies that can be incorporated into student goals setting;
  • Implications of equity with regard to student goal setting.

As with many of our webinars, our discussion incorporated a variety of classroom observations that steered us into unexpected territory. Here are some initial takeaways from our conversation.

Goals Are Supported With Relationships

Our conversation started with a discussion on when to set goals with students and the process for generating those goals. Kevin Hunt of the Swift House at Williston Central School starts the year off with Hopes and Dreams conferences.

Because he has students for four years, Kevin’s knowledge of student strengths and challenges helps him assist students in the creation of meaningful goals based on their experience in the classroom. More importantly, Kevin invites families to participate in the process. As a result, student, family, and teachers are all engaged in the process from the very start of their Swift House experience.

Through these positive relationships, Kevin and his team create meaningful goals that can be monitored by students, families, and teachers.

Common Language Helps

Throughout our discussion, the idea of common language kept cropping up. When teachers and students are using the same language around goals, transferable skills, and habits of learning, students hear the message around goals in a consistent and meaningful way. Importantly, this also allows teachers across the curriculum to help students identify evidence that demonstrates their growth and learning.

Motivation, Engagement and Autonomy

Later in the conversation, Maura Wieler of the Lamoille South Supervisory Union emphasized the importance of what author Daniel Pink identifies as key elements of good goals: Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery. When these are lacking, we move from student-driven goals that have relevance and meaning to goals created in a culture of compliance.

Maura also identified some key skills for successful goal setting and achievement with students. These included naming and noticing. When students are demonstrating growth, learning, and skill development teachers should name the behavior and help students and their peers notice the specific behavior that is leading to success.

Importance of Reflection

As we’ve said many times, one of the most important skills relative to setting and achieving goals is the development of reflective skills with students. Only through carefully considered reflection can students develop the metacognitive skills that will help them to not only recognize the skills that have helped them achieve goals, but reflection gives students the opportunity to move from past performance back into the goal setting mindset.

Question to consider when goal setting with your students: How might enhancing goal-directed conceptualization and action among all of our students, particularly those that have historically been marginalized, ensure that all young people have access to the support and resources to actualize their goals?

A Resource to Read

Check out this great blog post from Life Legeros, professional development coordinator with the Tarrant Institute of Innovative Education. He provides some great tips for effective goal setting as well guidelines for implementation.

Resources/Events/Related Happenings

  • November 1: Youth Environmental Summit - YES is an annual conference for middle and high school students to learn about environmental issues and get involved in local communities. The mission of YES is to inspire, encourage, and prepare youth for a life of environmental responsibility, service and leadership by increasing awareness and knowledge of environmental issues and fostering leadership skills.
  • November 1: Vermont Afterschool Annual Conference - The Vermont Afterschool Conference is an annual event that brings together hundreds of expanded learning programs, partners, advocates, and educators from around the state for a full day of learning, networking, and celebration. Stowe, VT
  • November 6 - 8: School Reform Initiative Fall Meeting - “Renew a fierce commitment to educational equity and excellence, and together, we’ll rekindle our passion for teaching and learning. Through our collective wisdom, we’ll find the courage and comfort needed to bring our best selves back to our schools and our students. Together with colleagues, we’ll access, engage, and be challenged through sustained conversation about what matters most – improving teaching and learning experiences, through a lens of equity, to make schools better places for every learner.” Boston, MA
  • November 7 & 8: Vermont School Boards and Superintendents Association Annual Conference - From Vision to Practice: Governing and Leading for Student Success. The conference this year will focus on strategies and tools from national experts and Vermont colleagues designed to help communities design a vision for student success, and most importantly, a plan to achieve that vision. (This relates directly to previous VTLFF-supported work with developing a Vermont Profile of a Graduate, with focus on equity, sustainability and joy). Lake Morey, VT. (early registration deadline October 7)
  • November 14: Today’s Students Summit - Advance Vermont welcomes stakeholders from across the state and sectors to support the transformation of postsecondary education and training in Vermont to better serve today’s students. Leaders from Pk-12 education, postsecondary education and training, business, government, nonprofits, and philanthropy are invited to attend. 8:30-4:00. Sugarbush Resort, Warren, VT.
  • November 19: VHEC Presents: From Equity Awareness to Equity Action: Instituting Educational Justice in Vermont Schools and Communities - Workshop #2: Girls, Women, and the Persistence of Gender Oppression in Schools
  • December 5-6: Youth Climate Leaders Academy - YCLA is designed to support youth in planning and implementing projects that make a difference on climate change. Youth-adult teams from around Vermont gather to learn, plan and begin implementation of year-long climate action plans tied to their individual learning goals.


Mraz, K., & Hertz, C. (2015). A mindset for learning: teaching the traits of joyful, independent growth. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.