2023 is here and as with any New Year, it comes with endless possibilities. One of the things that I've made sure to not do is to make 'resolutions' at the start of the year. I find resolutions to be more rigid, overly-ambitious, and often short-lived. Therefore, I prefer to set goals instead, SMART goals - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound goals, personally and professionally.

Over the years, I've seen how setting SMART goals has worked for me as a school counselor and resource/content creator, and cannot advocate enough for taking this into your students' lives as well simply because it provides them agency and helps them engage better and take action in their area of need or development.

You can make your lessons and sessions fun with all the games and activities, but if these kiddos don't exactly know why they're seeing you and if there is no way to measure what they've learned, then it might be worth your while to partner with your students to set and work towards setting SMART goals.

school counseling smart goals

Wondering how to go about it? Read on to know what I have seen work for me and for other counselors too:

1. Make it a part of your Tier 1 Lessons

Goals are not meant for only some students. Even the high achievers benefit from setting SMART goals, which is why I believe a classroom lesson on goal setting is relevant to all. Therefore, it is something that should ideally be on your curriculum map, both at the start of the academic year, and then again at the start of the New Year/second semester.

When done properly, goal setting can be a very effective tool for increasing student motivation. By using a SMART goal setting system, students will quickly build self-esteem by reaching milestones that are achievable. This will allow them to build up to bigger, more challenging goals. I like to use this Goal Setting Classroom Guidance Lesson to help students create a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. They will also be able to identify the small steps necessary to achieve a goal allowing them to feel more motivated and positive about the future.

2. Create a small group for those who need additional support

As always, you will encounter some students who need more support with setting and meeting goals, which is also why it's never a bad idea to kickstart a goal setting small group in January. Considering this is not a one-time lesson, you will have the opportunity to work on a number of related skills and attitudes that go with setting SMART goals.

I love using this hiking-themed Goal Climbers Group to help students set goals, identify what motivates them, and implement supports to achieve their goals. Group members will practice goal setting skills they can use at home and school, learn time management, prioritizing, and much more with each week's activities. The kiddos especially love the s'mores making activity!

3. Use it with individual students

There are students you might already be seeing in other groups or even in a tier 3 setting. And of course, there will be new groups and new individual students that will be on your caseload in the next couple of weeks. A good practice to implement is to start the New Year/second semester by setting SMART goals, simply because you want your students to understand why they're seeing you and to be able to take ownership of their learning.

What I've seen happen often is that students come to counseling sessions with the goal already decided for them. There is very little agency in this case. Therefore, I would encourage you to definitely guide your kiddos in the direction of the referral concern, but partnering with them allows them to see value in it and motivates them to want to work on these goals. Brainstorming at first might yield a plethora of not so relevant, specific, or measurable goals, but once your student/s finds the goal/s they want to work on, then together you could work on making them SMART.

I recommend using this Cupcake Goals resource that can be used across all tiers of school counseling. It is a fun, simple way to introduce elementary students to SMART goal setting, and includes interactive worksheets, a SMART goals poster, and examples of goal setting that they can relate to quite easily. Bonus points if you bring in cupcakes to your session!

Have you set SMART goals for yourself? Do you work with your students to help them set SMART goals too? How do you go about it? Let me know in the comments.


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