top of page
  • Facebook
  • X
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Youtube
INcompassing Education Logo

Setting Student Learning Goals

Setting Student Learning Goals

As adults, it is common for us to have to set goals for our jobs and for ourselves in life. Research backs up how important setting goals is for individuals and whole groups. In a 2011 study by Ad Kleingeld, there are many key aspects involved in goal setting and how it is linked to success. In 2006, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham showed a direct link to goal setting to self-confidence, motivation, and autonomy. In 2015, Gail Mathews showed in a study that people who wrote down their goal(s) were 33% more successful in achieving their goal(s) than people who just kept their goal(s) in their head.

goals graphic

Setting Achievable Learning Goals

Look at basic human nature in yourself. When you set goals and write them down you do not want to “let yourself down” by not completing your goal(s) or doing everything you can to achieve the goal(s). Why do we not use this intrinsic motivator with students? It can be a powerful tool in helping students perform better and do their best to achieve their goals. 


Since we are at the start of the school year this is a perfect time to try goals setting with students. Once you have established a baseline after the first unit or first major assessment, take the time to have students set their goal(s) for the next unit or assessment. This may take some time the first time you ask students to set their goal(s), but the investment in time will pay off with the rewards as the semester progresses. Setting goal(s) is NOT a skill most if any students already have. You must teach this process and take students through the steps for them to be successful.

Putting them in Writing

When you are setting your goal(s), part of the process is to identify what you need to do to achieve that goal(s). It is also important to identify what obstacles are in your way, you must overcome to achieve your goal(s). Finally, and most importantly, you must put your goal(s) in writing as a contract you are writing with yourself. This is true for students too. Remember, you must teach this process and take students through the steps for them to be successful.

Goal setting graphic

In the article “Goal-Setting Is Linked to Higher Achievement, Five research-based ways to help children and teens attain their goals.” written by Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D. in Psychology Today she states there are 5 ways to help students set and achieve their goal(s).

  1. The students must put goal(s) in writing. 

  2. There must be student buy-in. 

  3. The goal(s) must be specific. 

  4. Students must challenge themselves with the goal(s). 

  5. Students need to get feedback and identify support needed. 


Putting the goal(s) in writing makes the goal(s) real for the student and not just a thought or idea. When the student makes progress towards the goal(s), they get a feeling of success and self-accomplishment. They need to be able to track their progress. Teachers need to touch base and discuss the progress on the goal(s) with the student. Believe it or not there are apps to help with this. We all know how much students like their electronics. This is a productive and useful way for students to use their phones to help support their goal(s). (


Students must set goals that are realistic and that they can achieve. A student who has never earned more than a C in math should not set a goal of earning an A in math. Students must be realistic! They should try and stretch themselves and set a goal of something like a “C+”. There must be a way to track progress. There needs to be checks along the way for students to monitor, control, and modify their actions to achieve their goal(s). Students need help monitoring their goal(s) and progress. This is where parents and teachers come in keeping them on track.

SMART goals graphic


We all know about SMART Goals. The SMART in SMART goals stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Specific is first, as it is so very important. Students need to be very specific when they write down their goal(s) and very specific on how they will achieve their goal(s).


After the student writes down their goal(s) they need to follow it with the “by doing …” actions. Then they must identify the “When? How? And With help from …?” information. Finally, the students must explain how they will measure both their progress and their success of the goal(s).


As stated before, it is very important for the goal(s) to be realistic. The goal(s) should challenge the student but also MUST be achievable. It should NOT be what the teacher or parents want but what the student can do! The student must see it as possible, so they have the all-important buy-in. You do not want the goal(s) to be so difficult that the student is discouraged and just gives up. It is a fine line of challenging the student without defeating the student. It is better to be shy on making sure the goal(s) is attainable than 

on being too challenging.

Goals graphic

Celebrating Along the Way

Finally, there must be checks along the way. This is where both parents’ and teachers’ roles are so very important. If the student feels supported, not only will they more than likely achieve their realistic goal(s), but most of the time they will surpass their goal(s). This is where you can celebrate the little successes along the way. It can be a high five, fist bump, encouraging words, or simple recognition with a phone call home saying how well the student is doing or how hard they are working to achieve their goal(s)


To begin this process with your students you can ask these four simple questions to get them started writing their goal(s).

  1. What is the best grade you feel is realistic to earn for your next unit?

  2. What do you need to do to earn the best grade you feel you can earn for your next unit?

  3. What do you feel is your biggest obstacle to earning the grade you feel you can earn for your next unit?

  4. What support do you need from your parent(s) or the teacher for you to achieve your goal of earning the best grade you feel you can earn for your next unit?

These four questions will allow the student to write realistic, attainable, and achievable goal(s).



I know some people who have read this blog post might be saying “Yeah right, like I have time to do this in my classes, with all I have to cover this year!” I know it is easy to write these ideas off as just another crazy educational idea. Something I have learned from my colleague, Tiffany Creager, who is a licensed social worker and advanced mind body medicine practitioner, we need to teach to the whole student and not just our subject to the student. If we teach students good habits, we will get so much more from our students. You will see the increase in academic achievements and much fewer discipline issues. Try goals setting with your students. You will see that these proven and researched based ideas will be far more beneficial and successful than you can ever imagine. What do you have to lose?



Click to follow for new resources
Get your organizational wellness guide
Audible free trial link
Reading Simplified link to free workshop
bottom of page