Why do we begin every New Year by establishing resolutions? It's because goal setting creates hope and increases positivity. Both of these are things we desire in life and particularly during a pandemic. Hope is a positive emotion about the future. When we set goals and imagine what it looks like for those dreams to come true, our brain is activated. And those feelings of hope and positivity continue to rise as we begin to realize our goals. Goals energize us and motivate us to persist in the face of adversity and expend the effort necessary to master a task. Being flexible to adapt to barriers and having the perseverance to sustain our efforts are valuable life skills.
Goal setting together with your child is a great opportunity to foster positive and productive conversations. It's these conversations that have the biggest impact. Ask questions like: What is an appropriate goal? What is the purpose of this goal? What problems will it solve? Are there new things you need to learn to achieve your goal? Who could help you reach your goal? How do you feel when you accomplish your goal? What have you learned? And, don't forget the "positive" part! Questions like, "What is something you want to get better at?" builds a much better relationship than "Your room is always messy, you need to set a goal to clean your room." These negative connotations can lead to self-criticism and de-motivation. Young children may need help selecting their goals. Provide your child with two or three goals and let them choose the one they want to work on. This will maximize their ownership of the goal.
I don't know about you, but most of my New Year's resolutions haven't been successful for much longer than the first month. In an effective goal-setting process, children set small, achievable goals that can be accomplished quickly, usually lasting no more than four to six weeks. Even one week goals help provide a set of norms and expectations that prepare them to set bigger goals later in life. Short term goals encourage frequent check-ins that provide an opportunity for children to reflect with you on their progress, assess and monitor growth, make adjustments to the goal, determine what support is needed, and offer a time for celebration and encouragement. Reward success, but don't punish failure. Acknowledge success and revel in the positive emotions that accompany it. More frequent experiences of success result in increased motivation to set additional goals.
Maybe my New Year's resolutions failed because my goal was too general, too ambitious, or something I didn't really commit to. To maximize success, keep your goal specific. More specific goals are more effective. Write down your goals. The act of writing something down improves recall, and having a physical reminder
means you can check-in and review it at any time. Visual tools like checklists, charts and calendars are also helpful in the goal achieving process. My friend Martha shared her personal goal to walk 11,000 steps a day on Instagram. Every day she posts her progress toward that goal via a calendar that shows how many steps she walked and a celebrating emoji if she met her goal for the day. It holds her accountable and allows all of her friends to celebrate with her.
Within education, goal setting is an instructional strategy that has a strong positive impact on student learning and academic achievement. Robert Marzano's research states that "goal setting can produce student learning gains of between 18 and 41 percentile points." According to John Hattie's research, the most influential factor impacting student learning is student self-reporting. Also high on his list is receiving ongoing feedback. Both of these factors occur when children set clear goals, evaluate their own progress and receive ongoing feedback about how to best meet their goals.
You are your child's best teacher! And, effective teachers always model the behavior they expect from their students. So, set a goal for yourself too, and share it with your child. As you monitor the progress of your own goal, share your results with your child, think aloud for them as you make choices that help you achieve your goal (like "I really want that cookie, but I'm trying to eat healthily so I'm going to have a banana instead"). Then, invite them to celebrate with you when you achieve your goal. Goal setting is a lifelong-applicable skill. What a special gift to give your child! Setting goals and working to achieve them by identifying priorities and establishing a plan helps us live the life we truly want to live. Through goal setting, we raise the bar and push ourselves to achieve things we only hoped were possible.
Maribel Childress is the superintendent of Gravette Public Schools. She may be contacted via the school district's website. Opinions expressed are those of the author.