10 alternatives to goal setting…

My friend Jason Graham is a passionate educator with a massive amount of energy and enthusiasm for learning. You can find him on any given day planning great learning for his kids, supporting other educators, developing and delivering workshops or engaging in learning conversations via Twitter, blogs or face to face. He’s an inquirer, always posing problems, exploring possibilities and dreaming up new ideas. He’s a change agent who doesn’t accept the status quo, constantly questioning and seeking ways to do things better. He loves his students and strives to be the best teacher he can.

Yet (like me) he finds it frustrating when he’s asked to write down specific goals. This exchange on Twitter got me thinking:


I often wonder about the value of teachers asking their students to write down their goals (and admin expecting their teachers to.) I’m sure most respond the way Jay does. (See his post here)

Rather than asking students or teachers to set specific goals, consider some of these options…

1. How do you learn best? What hinders your learning? How can this knowledge help you with future learning?
2. What are you proud of in your teaching or learning and what do you wish you could do better? How might you go about it? Who might support you?
3. What do you really care about? How might you make a difference? What steps could you take to start the process?
4. What are you fascinated by? How might you find out more about it? Who else is interested? Can you collaborate?
5. What do you dream of doing? How might you work towards that dream? Who might you share it with? What kind of support do you need?
6. What do you wish you could change? What small steps could you take towards making it happen?
7. What excites you? How might you make that part of your learning? Who might you collaborate with who shares your passion?
8. Who do you admire? What can you learn from them?
9. What are your strengths? How might you develop them further? How might you be able to support others in their teaching or learning?
10. Instead of asking someone to ‘set goals’, what would you ask them to think about that might take them beyond where they currently are?

Wouldn’t these sorts of questions promote real, valuable reflection?

And I rather like this idea from Kath Murdoch-
Choose a single word that represents something you’d like to focus on. Put it in a place where you can see it every day as a reminder to keep that focus in mind.

Or would you rather write down your ‘smart’ goals?

18 thoughts on “10 alternatives to goal setting…

  1. Hi,
    This blog post really rang some bells for me. I’ve often found it difficult to set my own goals and then do the same with chn in my class – love the options presented instead. I’ve shared this blog post with our school blog – hope to generate some discussion re ‘goals’.


  2. I recently conducted a study for my PGCE (teacher training) into the usefulness of learning objectives and the results were astonishing. None of the students could recall any of the objectives from the lesson they had just been involved in moments earlier, despite these being given and on some occasions mentioned throughout the session. The teachers admitted that the use of SMART learning objectives is a box ticking exercise. This was a Uni project, on a small scale and I only have a very small amount of experience in teaching being a trainee but the literature review shows that I am not the only one to question this method of target setting.

    Obviously we all have aims and objectives but sometimes these are not ‘measurable’, also who are we to tell students what their objectives should be? Let’s tell them, in our own words (not those prescribed by a system of SMART targets developed for use in business) what OUR objectives are and then let them decide what theirs are – maybe then they would really engage with their learning and take responsibility for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a yearly meeting with our Principal to set goals and I have to say it does make me stop to think about the big ideas of what I am doing and plan to do. I tend to have many ideas and possibilities that we are currently working on. I don’t mind pausing to think but also realize that goals are not set in concrete and that I also need to respond to other possibilities. I agree with marl1.. its not either or.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thoughtful post as always….I really like that this offers alternatives. Goal setting as we know it is still ‘in the mix’ as a technique we can use to help get ourselves (or our students) focussed/motivated/clear … there are indeed multiple ways of becoming more mindful about where you might be ‘headed’ and what you want to work towards or achieve. Effective learners are very often intentional and mindful – but they are also open to possibility and change. Goal setting will work some times and other times it will be too forced, artificial or premature to articulate a goal. One strategy I quite like to use is to encourage students to frame their intentions or ‘hopes’ as a question … eg…how might I improve my negotiating skills in small groups? … the ‘goal’ is in there but it is tentative and exploratory. And – just like ‘research questions’ – sometimes we don’t really know WHAT our goal is until we are well on the way to achieving it…so we need flexibility in timing and style.


  5. Wonderful post Edna! I can imagine discussing these with teachers to set up mentoring plans for the year seems much more personal than SMART goals. Also how powerful would this be to do with students and their parents at the beginning of the year in meet the teacher/three way conferences/hopes and dreams day?


  6. I remember having this chat at the start of the year Edna. Great post, especially in light of the governments latest push in the state department of Victoria to have teachers setting a plethora of goals directly attached to their performance and appraisal.


  7. Excellent post Edna. Came on the day that I also had goal meetings for myself…. Glad to have all your suggestions here as I start this process with my students. I think they will find this approach very helpful. I know I do! Thank you!


  8. Ms. Sackson,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I am a junior at The University of South Alabama studying Elementary Education. This post has made me think a lot about my approach to teaching my future students. I am enthusiastically learning about new ways to teach, and I loved your suggestive questions to ask the students instead of having them write down specific goals. As a future educator, I hope to one day have the creativity and know-how to make my students better learners, and prepare them for this diverse world.


  9. Hey! These great ideas just came up in our meeting and we’re using them as guiding questions for our 3-way conferences. Great ideas and a perfect way to take the direction of these conferences. Thanks!


  10. Really interesting post. I am volunteering at a primary school working in reception (children aged 4-5) and I don’t think that setting long term goals is effective or appropriate (short term goals can be effective). What age do you think that it is appropriate to start setting long-term goals for children?


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