January 1 is nearly here. It’s a time when many fitness club attendance increases. Already, as one of my closest friends has commented, the classes are getting crowded and available exercise machines are harder to find. As annoying as this time is for devotes of fitness, my friend notes that in a month the crowds will disperse. The machines will become more available again.

This migration through fitness is an annual occurrence. People make resolutions. They might buy exercise products–note how commercials at this time are flooded with exercise equipment and club memberships–and/or resolve to take a few exercise classes. Those who survive past the first couple of months will likely have goals and a plan for support, which may include encouraging friends and/or trainers. Result: Get fit.

planning_cogsWith the start of schools in January, this is an opportunity for staff and students to set goals for their academic resolutions, and create a plan that includes a support network of peers, colleagues, and coaches.

Here’s what it can look like for students…

Step One: Reflect on accomplishments

It’s important to have individual time to think about what progress each person has made. Finding growth, however small or large, is critical for students to understand that they can effect change for themselves. Consider having students journal or make lists. Possibly, have students share their ideas with the teacher, and maybe talk with family at home. Look at student work to find the areas of success. Even students who may not appear successful at this stage of the school year will have grown. Help every student find those successes.

Step Two: Imagine oneself by the end of the school year

Students need opportunity to see themselves as they aspire to become. Looking 3 to 5 months ahead, what do they see themselves doing with regards to school. The focus could be partly academic–“I want to be a better writer” or “I want to understand Science like my friends”–and partly relational skills such as Collaboration, Communication, Networking, or Perseverance–called General Capabilities in Australia. What students eventually put to paper, may on the first draft be broad, and possibly appear unrealistic for some, but that is fine because they are future thinking. This active work helps them see themselves as capable of doing.

When my daughter wanted to try out for the junior high basketball team, having no training and four days to prepare, I could have told her there was no chance of her making the team much less playing. I’d coached junior high and high school basketball. There are many skills to know and build into muscle memory to be competitive. That weekend, we worked on the basics–defensive stances, passing skills, and some shooting form. She made the team. During the season, we continued to practice the skills, added new ones, and studied the offensive and defensive plays. She got to play in most games, usually in the second half for a couple of minutes at a time, but she and I were happy for it.

Step Three: Set Goals

Meet with each student about where they are and where they want to be (Step 1 & 2). Help them set concrete goals. Make them S.M.A.R.T.:

  • Specific: Identify the skill(s) the student wants and needs to develop. Instead of “I want to be a better writer” it would be “I want to be better at using details and organizing a clear beginning, middle, and end.”
  • Measurable: Coach the student on identifying the elements for what the skill will look like when done well. Help them design a criteria and/or rubric, or provide one that is understandable to them.
  • Attainable: Break down the skill(s) into checkpoints for progress of quality, so that the student can track their own growth. Later, plan instruction and reflection opportunities that will help the student attain the checkpoints.
  • Realistic: The mapping of support that occurs for Measurable and Attainable will help students see what can be accomplished in the time remaining of school. It’s critical to be flexible with the work as some students will surprise us by their acceleration of learning, while others may uncover obstacles that create struggle and more time needed for practice and coaching. For example, a student who sets the goal of writing a novel, when he struggles with complete sentences and organization, may start work on short stories and essays (around his interests). Once completed, these could be be turned into ebooks (size does not matter) and posted online for anyone to download at places such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Result: Published author = motivation to learn more of the craft of writing.
  • Time bound: Establish a end date when the skill(s) will be demonstrated at the level determined between the teacher and student. Again, be flexible in that the learning could happen sooner, or the target might need adjusting because of unforeseen obstacles.

(For more info on S.M.A.R.T. Goals here are two places to start: A | B)

Keep the number of goals limited to 1 or 2. There is obviously so much more that they need to accomplish. For this exercise we want them to get into the practice of goal setting and follow through. Once they see themselves making strides, such planning and follow through skills will transfer to other needed areas. Meeting with students individually is time consuming. Some teachers might balk, giving the reason that such time takes away from instruction. This work by students is part of their critical learning. Coaching students through this goal setting process encourages them to take ownership of their learning. When a student struggles, the goal setting experience becomes a means to help them with the curriculum. Not meeting with each student leads to learners practicing their traditional role of passive participation, where they do not take charge of their learning, because no one has coached them on how, before expecting them to lead. Or another way of looking at it, when an adult goes through an evaluation of their professional work, they expect that the supervisor will meet with them during the goal setting and review of work. This is standard practice in the educational and business communities–so why not do the same for our students. Give them the same edge as we get for our professional success.


Step Four: Write a letter to your future self

Have students compose a letter to themselves. The purpose of the letter is to encourage themselves to continue their efforts, and to describe how they will feel after they are successful in making progress towards their goal. Seal the letters in envelopes. Give the students their letters in 2-3 months to open as a source of personal inspiration.

Final Thoughts…

It’s hard to attain New Year’s resolutions alone. That’s why so many aspiring workout junkies flag after 1-2 months. Having a plan, supportive coaches, and belief in oneself is so important. The above strategy is a means to help students develop experiences that includes all 3 of these elements. It’s great for students. It also can be inspiring for you, if you try it for yourself.

Happy New Year!