Goal Setting and Planning

Students demonstrate the ability to formulate and prioritize short-term and long-term school, career, and life goals and specific objectives to help them reach their goals and they make specific and realistic plans to achieve their goals.

Key Beliefs:

I will be a better student if I act on the following beliefs.  I will:

  • get better results if I set goals and plan out the steps to reach them.
  • be more in control of my life if I set goals that will improve my way of facing problems. 
  • possess effective strategies to establish plans that will meet my goals.
  • formulate and follow specific plans to meet my goals.
  • understand that my goals are the road maps that will guide me and show me what is possible for my life.
  • Illustrate how students can set goals for large assignments and tasks by breaking them into small steps, and also show them how to make a plan.
  • Point out the organizational and time–management strategies you utilize in the classroom. 
  • Incorporate organizational skills into research–based or multi–part assignments, such as lab experiments and history projects. 
  • Consider conducting student–led conferences in which students present their learning to their teacher and parents, as an opportunity for students to reflect on the learning that has taken place over a period of time and the goals they have for the rest of the term. 
  • Have students create a portfolio that will be used to help them reflect on what they have learned and help them to state clear goals for future learning, based on the areas where they need to make more progress.
  • Create a graphic organizer for students, as it organizes facts, concepts, ideas, or terms in a visual or diagrammatic way, making the relationship between the individual items clearer.
  • Have students assume responsibility for the setting of their learning targets and also for the monitoring or tracking of those targets. 
  • Use the S.M.A.R.T. acronym as a way of guiding students in the design of a learning target. In this acronym: S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Achievable or Attainable, R = Relevant, and T = Time-bound. The S.M.A.R.T. method of setting learning targets:
    • Specific The learning target must be specific rather than general.
    • Measurable There must be some way of measuring whether the learning target has been accomplished.
    • Achievable The achievement of the learning target must be something the student is capable of attaining. 
    • Relevant The learning target needs to be significant and relevant to the student’s present learning. If students are left to set learning targets without any guidance, there is the danger that their targets will be less relevant than if they are set in the context of understanding. 
    • Time–bound Students should specify by when they aim to achieve the target. 
  • Delineate what is called for in student homework assignments, and also in the resources (time, study materials, research databases, etc.) that will be needed to complete them.
  • Teach note organization by suggesting ways to summarize lecture content and fill in gaps in notes.
  • Work with your students to set three goals each week. 
  • Help students set improvement (rather than benchmark) goals. For example, a student may decide to increase the number of homework assignments they complete, as opposed to completing twelve (or any other set number of) homework assignments. The first goal promotes achievement while improving performance. 
  • “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” – Napoleon Hill
  • “Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement.” – Brian Tracy
  • “The significance of a man is not in what he attains but in what he longs to attain.” – Kahlil Gibran
  • “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” – Yogi Berra
  • “Aim at the sun, and you may not reach it, but your arrow will fly far higher than if aimed at an object on a level with yourself.” – J. Howes
  • “A good archer is known not by his arrows but by his aim.” – Thomas Fuller
  • “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them.” – George Bernard Shaw
  • “I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry Thoreau
  • “Your goals are the road maps that guide you and show you what is possible for your life.” – Les Brown 
  • “If you’re bored with life – you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things  – you don’t have enough goals.” – Lou Holtz
  • “Living without an aim is like sailing without a compass.” – Dumas 
  • “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius
  • “You can achieve anything you want in life if you have the courage to dream it, the intelligence to make a realistic plan, and the will to see that plan through to the end.” – Sidney A. Friedman
  • “There is always a step small enough from where we are to get us to where we want to be. If we take that small step, there’s always another we can take, and eventually, a goal thought to be too far to reach becomes achievable.” – Ellen Langer

Take What You Need

Learning Objective: To help students see the importance of setting goals

Materials: Roll of toilet paper


  • Gather students into a circle either on the floor, in chairs, or by arranging their desks.
  • Don’t say anything, just take out a roll of toilet paper, tear off a length with about 10 squares, hand the roll of toilet paper to the student sitting next to you, and just say, “Take what you need.”
  • Let each student take as much or as little as they want, then pass it to the next student.
  • When everyone has had a turn, tell them that for each square of toilet paper they have taken, they will now share specific goals that they have for the class this school year or future plans. 
  • Demonstrate the type of information you’d like them to share by modeling – you go first. 

Process and Reflection:

So What?

  • What did you think this activity would be about?
  • What did you learn about your classmates?
  • Was it hard for anyone to come up with enough information particularly if you took a bunch of squares? What made this activity a challenge for you?

Now What?

  • What does this activity have to do with what you hope to accomplish this school year?
  • Why is it important for the students in our class to set goals?
  • What would be the benefits associated with having goals?
  • Explain the process you will use to help meet the goals you have set. What do you think makes this process effective?

Goal Setting 

Learning Objective: To encourage students to reflect upon character traits and to focus on striving for improvement

Materials: Sentence strips; worksheet


  • In groups of three, have students define a specific character trait.
  • Have each group write their definition on a sentence strip.
  • Display the sentence strips on the classroom wall or bulletin board.
  • Refer to the definitions periodically as part of an academic lesson. Students can also be asked for examples of the behavior they have noticed in their own lives (personal, in classes, in their studies) or in the world: TV, politics, social media, movies).
  • Have students complete the worksheet and keep it as an assessment of progress on the goal.

Process and Reflection:

So What?

  • What is the benefit of setting goals?
  • How can we establish goals related to values, non–cognitive skills, or character traits?
  • Did you find this activity a challenge? If so, what made it challenging for you as a student?
  • Can you identify all of the ways you can measure results?

Now What?

  • By completing this activity, what can be direct benefits for you as a student?
  • If you have done this on a regular basis in our class, what have you noticed over time?
  • The cynic may say that it makes no sense to try and work on changing one’s behavior because all that counts in our school is academics? Agree or disagree? Explain your position.
  • How could this activity be helpful for all students in our school?

Life Highlights Game

Learning Objective: To understand what is important in one’s life and what it takes to make dreams a reality


  • Begin by asking students to close their eyes for one minute and consider the best moments of their lives. This can include moments they’ve had alone or those they’ve shared with family or friends. These moments can pertain to success in the classroom or an extracurricular activity, community involvement, personal revelations, or exciting life adventures. 
  • After the students have had a moment to run through highlights of their lives, inform them that their search for highlights is about to be narrowed. 
  • Keeping their eyes closed, ask students to take a moment to decide what 60 seconds of their life they would want to relive if they were given the opportunity.
  • Pair students and have them share what if they chose as highlights and explain why they chose what they did.
  • Have pairs identify what they can do now to create additional life-changing experiences.
  • To conclude the activity, have each pair identify the key elements of what it was that they believe has been significant in their life.

Process and Reflection:

So What?

  • How hard was it to decide on the significant moments in your life?
  • Should we do this kind of activity when we are still young? Explain.
  • What is the benefit of thinking about the best moments in one’s life?

Now What?

  • Why do you think this activity can be a challenge for students?
  • What can you learn from what you shared as to your defining moments in your life?
  • Identify specific things you learned about the experiences of others in your class.
  • What can you do to create additional life-changing experiences?
  • What does this activity have to do with setting goals?
  • How did character or being a good person and making wise choices play a role in what you decided to be important and potentially life-changing?
  • What would you like to be remembered for after you leave our school?

Pursuit of Excellence by Michael Jordan
I approach everything step by step. I had always set short–term goals. As I look back, each one of the steps or successes led to the next one. When I got cut from the varsity team as a sophomore in high school, I learned something. I knew I never wanted to feel that bad again. So I set a goal of becoming a starter on the varsity. That’s what I focused on all summer. When I worked on my game, that’s what I thought about. 

When it happened, I set another goal, a reasonable, manageable goal that I could realistically achieve if I worked hard enough. I guess I approached it with the end in mind. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there. As I reached those goals, they built on one another. I gained a little confidence every time I came through. If your goal is to become a doctor and you’re getting Cs in biology then the first thing you have to do is get Bs in biology and then As. You have to perfect the first step and then move on to chemistry or physics.

Take those small steps. Otherwise, you’re opening yourself up to all kinds of frustration. Where would your confidence come from if the only measure of success was becoming a doctor? If you tried as hard as you could and didn’t become a doctor, would that mean your whole life was a failure? Of course not. 

All those steps are like pieces of a puzzle. They all come together to form a picture. Not everyone is going to be the greatest. But you can still be considered a success. Step by step, I can’t see any other way of accomplishing anything. 

Tell Me the Secret of Success
A young man asked Socrates the secret to success. Socrates told the young man to meet him near the river the next morning. They met. Socrates asked the young man to walk with him toward the river. When the water got up to their neck, Socrates took the young man by surprise and ducked him into the water. The boy struggled to get out but Socrates was strong and kept him there until the boy started turning blue.

Socrates pulled his head out of the water and the first thing the young man did was to gasp and take a deep breath of air. Socrates asked: “What did you want the most when you were there?” The boy replied: ‘Air.’ Socrates said: “That is the secret to success. When you want success as badly as you wanted the air, then you will get it. There is no other secret.” 

The motivation to succeed comes from the burning desire to achieve a purpose. Napoleon Hill wrote: “Whenever the mind of man can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.” A burning desire is the starting point of all accomplishments. Just like a small fire cannot give much heat, a weak desire cannot produce great results. 

Take Control of My Life
High on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful city of Venice, Italy, there lived an old man who was a genius. Legend had it he could answer any question anyone might ask of him. Two of the local boys figured they could fool the old man, so they caught a small bird and headed for his residence.

One of the boys held the little bird in his hands and asked the old man if the bird was dead or alive. Without hesitation, the old man said, ” Son if I say to you that the bird is alive, you will close your hands and crush him to death. If I say the bird is dead, you will open your hands and he will fly away. You see, son, in your hands you hold the power of life and death.”

In your hands, you hold the seeds of failure or the potential for greatness. Your hands are capable but they must be used – and for the right things – to reap the rewards you are capable of attaining.