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5 Practical Ideas for Back to School Goal Setting (for Teachers and Students)

Did you know that if people take the time to sit and write out their goals that they are 50% more likely to accomplish them? Crazy, right?

I have to say that I’m a big proponent of goal setting, and I have two thanks for that: my parents and Olympia Sports Camp. My parents are both the kind of people who write things down, and my mother especially talked about writing down and setting personal goals via diary writing when I was young. But my soft skill training in goal setting really came as a camper, then later a counsellor at Olympia Sports Camp. The owner/leader of the camp, Dave Grace was basically obsessed with the idea of teaching campers and staff how to set goals, make a plan and achieve your dreams. There was even a weekly ‘Dave talk’ for all campers (counsellors heard it 10x a summer – maybe more) during which Dave broke down the steps of goal setting and encouraged staff to model and support campers in achieving their own ‘personal best’ in sport and life.

Suffice to say that I got a serious education in goal setting and have generally applied it to my own life ever since. Over the years, I’ve also realized the importance of teaching this ‘soft skill’ to students, and I’m always surprised at the number of teenagers in my classrooms who have never set or achieved a personal goal. In my opinion, teaching students how to set, plan and achieve personal goals related to school, life and extracurricular activities is paramount – especially in September when everything is new and fresh.

Here are some of my favourite Back to School Goal Setting Activities:

Vision Boards: Who doesn’t love a good old collage? Essentially, that’s what a vision board is. Ask students to create a physical (or virtual) collage of words, images, phrases that represent their personal goals for the school year, then have them explain their work to the class or teacher in a private conference. Student vision boards are then displayed in the classroom as a daily reminder of their personal aspirations for the school year.

Movie Trailer: imovie has a great feature where they have pre-set ‘movie trailer’ shells with music, font/colours etc. All students have to do is change the text and upload images/videos to suit their purpose. I have students create a ‘movie trailer’ that features what their upcoming school year will look like: what themes will be present, what tone will it have, who will they spend time with, what will they do, what challenges will they face, etc. Students can then share their movie trailers with the class, or via a private viewing for the teacher. If you don’t have access to apple products, any movie maker program would work just as well – just do a bit of front loading about the genre of movie trailers before diving into the activity.

Bucket List Writing Assignment:  After introducing students to the idea of the ‘bucket list’, I guide them through the writing process to create a ‘bucket list’ of personal goals for the school year. This activity can be adapted from a basic list for younger or weaker students to a complete personal essay for advanced English classes. It’s a great medium to get students thinking and writing about what they’d like to accomplish throughout the school year. I also like that this works as a great pre-assessment of writing for my English students.

Inquiry Based Learning Research:Giving students free rein to learn about goal setting is another strategy I like to use. I usually start with putting students into small groups and asking them 2-3 ‘key’ questions. In this instance it would be: What is the practice of goal setting? Why is goal setting an important skill to apply to life and school? How do you go about setting and achieving goals (i.e. what’s the process)? I then set them loose with the options to both discuss and do some research as a group. The lesson culminates with a collaborative document, anchor chart or diagram with all the classroom learning displayed on it regarding their answers to the ‘key questions’. I like this activity, as it’s a great ice breaker and gives me a chance to see what students work well together.

Article of the Week and Reflection Writing: Using articles of the week and reflection writing is another way I teach students about goal setting and challenge them to set their own goals. I start with a lesson on Reading and Writing Articles of the Week (enjoy the free download). Then, we move to a pre-selected article on the topic of student goal setting and students are asked to follow my modelling of active reading. The lesson ends with students selecting a question or topic for writing that ties to the concept of goal setting. Again, for me in the English classroom this activity kills many birds with one stone: reading pre-assessment, writing pre-assessment, goal setting soft skill teaching, learning about active reading, etc.

Start your September with Goal Setting!

The best part about these activities is that both teachers and students can use them! I often take a couple of minutes myself to set some goals each September, and many of these activities would also fit well with a September staff meeting.

If you like what you’ve read and don’t want to do any prep for the activities, I do sell a full unit of the aforementioned activities with handouts, assessment materials and step by step process available on my Teachers pay Teachers store here: Back to School Goal Setting Activities/Mini Unit.

How do you start your school year with goal setting? Share some of your ideas in the comments below:)


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