Blog

8 Common Mistakes Students Make When Setting Goals, And Ways To Improve Them

It’s baaaaaaack. School, that is. There’s going to be a few moans about that, but honestly, how great is it to get back with your friends, your favorite teachers, and a solid, successful routine. And with classrooms opening already around Colorado, now’s a great time to start helping improve your child’s education through realistic goal-setting.

When engaging in goal-setting activities, keep in mind that students range from the overly ambitious to the easily overwhelmed and every shape and size in between. I’ve had students who were convinced they were going to Stanford in the fifth grade, and I’ve had students who couldn’t tie their shoes in middle school. So, it’s really important to be realistic and also it’s just as important to know what to be realistic about.

Creating unrealistic goals is one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen students make. With that in mind, here are eight goals that can be managed more effectively.

  • Mistake Setting the bar too high Students who want to impress their teacher, mom, or dad can become too ambitious, which while a noble characteristic can more often than not lead to disappointment. Also, it takes the joy from learning. The student I cited above who was convinced he was going to Stanford measured every score, activity, and assignment with this in mind. Anything less than an A+ led to tears. What teacher wouldn’t feel bad about this? Fortunately, we caught this early, and made learning more fun for him, which resulted in just what we thought: better marks!
  • Mistake Setting the bar too low Students who make goals thinking they aren’t good enough can just as easily get lost, bored, and disinterested. They end up falling behind socially, as well, and it becomes a lot of work for teachers and parents to build their confidence back up. Often, those of us who set the bar too low are high achievers in other creative areas that might not be taught in school. Presenting the student with areas to integrate creativity in their work can create a sea change in their motivation.
  • Mistake The goals are not rewarding enough Good goal-setting is incumbent on feeling rewarded when the goal is met. If the goal doesn’t provide meaningful rewards, then the progression is likely to plateau too quickly. When setting a goal with students, ask them how they’d like to be rewarded. They’ll definitely let you know. And don’t be afraid to assert your authority in working with them on rewards. For example, a long term goal like raising their math grade form a C to a B could result in everyone’s favorite – a new video game, but only if it involves high order thinking.
  • Mistake Taking on too many jobs You’ve heard of dress to impress. Well, lots of students say yes to impress. It’s good because they love to help out, but classroom helping is way more effective when the job is highly meaningful to the student and the class. Sure, it’s great to have a student secretary on hand, so when assigning this goal, be sure the student understands there’s more to it than meets the eye. Students love to pass out paper, but when we ran out, they also had to reorder it, reply to any correspondence with a vendor through a quick writing assignment I’d give them, and then be sure it was kept clean and in order. When you do it this way, one job branches out into several.
  • Mistake Not taking enough risks I could usually categorize my classes quite easily. There were the risk averse, and the overly risky. While both presented plenty of opportunities for growth, if I’d have to choose I’d definitely steer students to taking risks, to teach them how to grow. This doesn’t mean setting unrealistic goals, however. It simply means that students learn best just a little outside their comfort zone. That’s the perfect place to present challenges and promote growth.
  • Mistake Goals are too impersonal Goals should be as personal as possible. Commonly, students make this mistake by playing follow the leader. If a particular student makes a goal that works, it is rather easy to copy. After all, we all know what the sincerest form of flattery is. You see this all the time in fads, and learning has fads too. But, fads are only as good as the designer. Goals are our very own designs, and students need to be reminded of this.
  • Mistake Not giving yourself enough time This is arguably the most common mistake in goal setting and often the most frustrating. We all have a tendency to want to see results now!  A good way to overcome this is to be sure at least one goal is a long term goal. Fostering the work ethic gained in achieving long term gains teaches patience and persistence. I think we can all agree this is a really important skill set for a mobile generation of learners.
  • Mistake Not following through When a student reaches their goal, make sure to celebrate it. Then, be sure to build off of it. I taught one student who read all of the 20 classic books she had on her list in half the time she allotted. The class celebrated that by watching an adaptation of Great Expectations. The next day, we set a new goal. She said she wanted to watch more adaptations she loved them so much. Out of that, she grew an affinity for film. That’s how the best goals work. They build one on top of another.

Remember, the best way to set goals is to individualize them as best as you can. You can have all the aspirations in the world and still the single most important thing you can be is realistic. And realistically, the sky is truly them limit when handling goals correctly.

If you’d like The School Communications Agency to work with you in setting realistic goals, we’d love to help. Contact us for more.

Thanks so much!

About The Author

Chris Coomey is a teacher, writer, and community engagement specialist. When not working with students or writing about education, you can find him on his bike, on the basketball court, or out on a long hike on the incredible Colorado trails.