Setting Educational Goals

Four Tips for Setting Effective Educational Goals

As a former special education teacher, I found that setting educational goals for students was an effective way for them to achieve realistic objectives. By breaking down a specific goal into smaller steps, you can point out as a teacher what exactly it takes to get to the finish line. This concept applies to all students – not just those in special education. Below, I’ve outlined why setting educational goals is important and offer a few simple tips that can help students get the most out of their education.

The Importance of Setting Educational Goals

The key to setting academic goals is being able to identify realistic ones. Often, younger kids lack maturity or may not live in an environment where goal setting is part of the family structure. When asked, their goal may be as broad as wanting to be an NBA player when they grow up. While it is important not to minimize that ambition, their focus should be recalibrated to thinking about specific, tangible steps for how to accomplish that.

By identifying what a student’s goals are and why they have those goals, you can determine what motivation, skills and strengths are required to achieve that goal, and then plan accordingly. Essentially this is “task analysis”: breaking down a goal into specific steps, thinking about what obstacles you might encounter and how you plan to address those obstacles – because there will be some.

It’s important to start out with small goals, such as something that can be accomplished between Monday morning and Friday afternoon. In school, this means starting each week by setting a goal that can be accomplished by the end of the week, and continuing to do that until it becomes familiar. From there, short term goals can be expanded to 3-month, 6-month, year-long goals and beyond.

Four Tips to Help Students Set Effective Goals

  1. Exposure. I can’t emphasize it enough: expose students to career opportunities and colleges as often as possible. If you’re going on a family vacation over the summer, stop at a nearby college and go through its bookstore. Look at course books – how big they are, how expensive they are, what is the reading level, how many required. This can be a very eye-opening experience for kids and parents alike.
  2. Acknowledge support a support system. Help students determine which people have offered help throughout their life. Kids tend to take that for granted. When students realize who has been is a part of their support system, you can emphasize how those support people can and will continue to support them as they move forward in their lives. Make sure the student understands how important it is to keep that support by checking in with them from time to time. These are the people who will continue to support the youth in their future.
  3. Dealing with grief and loss. Learning how to honor the loss of someone and having the ability to move forward is important, because it can often be the end of their postsecondary education for some kids. Many times, first-generation students in college will go home for the memorial ceremony and will never return.
  4. Teach students to ask for what they need. For a student, self-knowledge is key – knowing themselves, how they learn and what they need from others in the form of support. They should be assertive and ask appropriately for what they need.

For more information on how to help children succeed in and out of the classroom, visit the Achieving Educational Equity section.

Jean Echternacht

About the Author

Jean Echternacht, Ed.D.

  • Jean Echternacht, Ed.D.
  • Research Associate
  • Institute on Community Integration (Retired)

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