EMC² Blog

Why Setting SMART Goals Blows New Year’s Resolutions Out of the Water

Happy New Year!

Here’s to you and your students and an amazing year of playing with purpose as we celebrate the start of a new calendar year. But while the rest of the world is setting (and quickly abandoning) a well-intentioned parade of New Year’s Resolutions… we here at EMC² Learning encourage teachers to raise the bar even higher by ditching those fleeting “Resolutions” for some full-blown SMART goals with some serious staying power.

“What are SMART goals,” you ask?

We’ll get there in a second. But first — let’s take a quick look at the fundamental problem with New Year’s Resolutions in the first place. Because try as we might, human beings are really bad at sticking with things that are outside of their comfort zone. And while New Year’s feels like a perfect time to turn over a new leaf with a healthy bunch of new habits, study after study paints a pretty bleak picture of the actual rate of follow through. Of note:

  • 41% of all Americans typically make New Year’s Resolutions.

  • But 43% of all people genuinely expect to fail before February, and…

  • Almost one out of four quit within the first week of setting their New Year’s resolution. In fact…

  • Most people quit before the end of January, and only 9% see their resolutions through until the end of the new year.

Shifting back to teacher speak: a 9% passing rate is… not good.

Thankfully, falling short of success doesn’t mean we’re doomed to perpetual failure. As one of our favorite authors, James Clear of Atomic Habits once so succinctly observed: “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” And SMART goals help folks built systems that last by outlining specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound action-items that can help you achieve your objectives in a more organized and effective way. Here are three major benefits of setting SMART goals:

1. INCREASED MOTIVATION AND FOCUS: By setting SMART goals, you can clearly define what you want to achieve, which can increase your motivation and focus. Knowing exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it can help you stay on track and avoid distractions.

2. IMPROVED TIME MANAGEMENT: SMART goals help you break down your objectives into smaller, more manageable tasks. This can make it easier to prioritize your work and allocate your time effectively, resulting in improved time management.

3. GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY: Setting SMART goals allows you to track your progress and measure your success, which can increase your accountability. This can be especially helpful if you are working towards a goal with a team, as it allows everyone to see how their contributions are helping to move the project forward.

SMART Goals at Work (And at Play) in the Classroom

In the work that we do with our students and on behalf of the incredible community of Engagement Engineers and Tinker Teachers all around the world, we swear by the SMART goal-setting system. The reason is simple. SMART goals help to establish clear boundaries for success (or lack thereof). As James Clear writes in Atomic Habits, the key to sustained growth over time is merely a matter of holding ourselves to regular accountability to the systems that we’ve put in place in order to help ourselves succeed. We set the goals. We show up for ourselves every day and check in at regular intervals to take the steps towards reaching those goals. It’s as easy as that.

And if you miss an occasional day or a checkpoint every now and again? That’s perfectly alright.

Just don’t miss two in a row.

Surely a major goal of every classroom educator is to help students become the very best versions of themselves, yes? And providing regular checkpoints for self reflection, goal-setting and metacognition can really help learners of all ages course correct as they make their way towards lasting success long after the final bell has sounded. SMART goals help equip learners with an easily transferrable set of skills that they can carry far beyond the narrow confines of our curricula and the four walls of our classrooms.

By doing so, we shift from managing people to managing systems. This takes the stress and strain off of the “teacher as taskmaster” role and gives us the chance to serve in a role more like that of a coach or servant leader, shifting us away from imposing our will on our students and helping the individuals in our classrooms achieve their goals for themselves. And once students start to see the results of their goal-setting and momentum, it can actually be quite liberating for all parties involved.

Here’s just a few ideas for what SMART goals might look like in a classroom.

  • Elementary School Student: I will read 2 chapters of a chapter book of my choice this week. This book will be something that has nothing to do with school, and that’s perfectly fine!

  • Middle School Student: In the next five days, I will use Minecraft to create a 3D replica of something I’ve learned about in class. When I’m done, I’ll share my creation with my teacher.

  • High School Student: I will dedicate 10 minutes each night to watching YouTube videos related to something I’ve learned about in class. At the end of the week, I’ll write a short blog post where I share the best of the best and summarize all the stuff that these videos taught me that I didn’t learn in class.

  • Elementary School Teacher: I will make a point of setting up short one-on-one conferences and meeting with each of the students that I teach for at least 3 minutes apiece. It will take some time, but if I meet with even just (X) students a day during lunch or recess, I should be able to meet with all (XYZ) students over the course of the next three weeks.

  • Middle School Teacher: I know absolutely nothing about TikTok. I will dedicate 15 minutes of class each Friday for the next four weeks to giving my students the chance to teach me about this app, and I will have them help me post my first video by the 30th of the month.

  • High School Teacher: ChatGPT has tremendous potential to reshape the face of education as we know it. I will devote at least an hour of time over the next week learning more about this technology by listening to educational podcasts, and I will curate an age-appropriate collection of quality resources to share with my students, which they will then use as the starting point for an in-class debate assignment in place of a traditional exam.

In the classroom, bringing students into the self-reflective process and taking ownership of their own education can be tricky — but it absolutely can be done. And as we ring in the new year with a fresh approach to all the possibilities that lie ahead, January seems like the perfect time to create some space in your classroom to help students lay the foundations for SMART goals that can help them succeed well into the second semester and beyond it.

We encourage everyone to consider giving this same goal-setting process a shot in their classrooms for the New Year. As you start the new calendar year with a “clean slate” with your students, SMART goal setting can be a total game changer.

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