Aug 6, 2013 by Norene Wiesen

student learning goals How does your school go about aligning school, classroom, and student learning goals for the new school year? Are the goals that are set at the school-wide level communicated to teachers and students? Do all members of the school community know what they are striving toward in the context of the year’s teaching and learning—and why?

As the 2013-2014 year begins, schools that are not yet engaged in multi-level goal setting might consider some of the advantages of this approach.

School-Wide Goals

  • Sharing goals with the whole school community helps create a culture of joint leadership that spans
  • Including teachers, students, and even parents gives everyone an owner’s interest in outcomes
  • Reviewing school-wide goals at the end of each term enables the school to evaluate progress, address obstacles, and adjust priorities to stay on track

Grade Level Goals

  • Instituting goals for each grade level gives teachers a foundation for working together on setting and meeting targets
  • Establishing grade-level goal-setting teams helps teachers respond to priority changes as the year unfolds
  • Teachers benefit by collaborating with one another on lesson plans and sharing resources and best practices

Classroom Goals

  • Sharing classroom goals with students helps teachers ensure that their students know what is expected of them
  • When students are familiar with classroom goals, they have clear benchmarks for setting their own individual learning goals
  • Providing students with periodic progress updates helps them understand the reasons behind changes to goals or priorities

Student Learning Goals

  • Setting student learning goals that align with classroom, grade level, and school-wide goals gives students a stake in the progress of their community
  • The goals that individual students set for themselves can be shared with other teachers to inform goal setting for the grade level

Working With Students to Set Learning Goals

The S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) model of goal setting can help students understand how to think about goals and envision what their goals might look like:


  • Review relevant assessment records with the student to identify growth opportunities
  • Ask the student about areas in which they think they need to improve
  • Discuss potential strategies for improvement
  • Identify any additional people, places, or permissions that might be involved for the strategies selected


  • Help the student establish the parameters that will indicate to him when the goal is met
  • Ask the student to think about “how much” or “how many”


  • Tell the student what you think might be a challenging but attainable goal for him and ask for his opinion
  • Let the student select the degree of challenge that he finds motivating, given teacher input
  • For longer-term goals, check in with the student periodically to see if the level of challenge needs to be adjusted


  • Help the student craft motivating goals that focus on outcomes
  • Ask, “What would progress look like?”


  • Ensure that every goal has a clear deadline
  • Once students are comfortable with goal-setting for longer timeframes such as the school year or one school term, have them try setting goals for one week or one day—or even a single lesson

Sample S.M.A.R.T Goal

Improve next math quiz score by one letter grade.

  • Specific:  Does the student know exactly what to do?  YES
  • Measurable:  Does the student know “how much” or “how many”?  YES
  • Attainable:  Is it realistic?  INDIVIDUALIZE FOR EACH STUDENT
  • Results-Based:  Is it an area which the student needs to improve?  Does it measure progress?  YES
  • Time-Bound:  Is there a clear deadline?  YES

A beautiful thing about effective goal setting is the feeling of empowerment that students take away from the process when they have seen it work for them. Setting goals for the new school year is just the starting point for transforming teaching and learning, and when teachers and students feel they have ownership of their goals, the entire community can step forward together to do accomplish the work that lies ahead.


Newman, R. (2011). Using Goal Setting To Build An Inclusive Learning Culture.Retrieved from

O’Neill, J., & Conzemius, A. (2005). The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Related reading:

Teaching Metacognition: The Value of Thinking About Thinking

AMPing Up Our Teaching to Increase Intrinsic Student Motivation