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5 Ways to Help Your Student Set Goals for the New Year

With the new year right around the corner, many students have the opportunity for a fresh start. This time of the year presents a great opportunity to start anew, wipe the slate clean, and make positive changes that can influence success both inside and outside of the classroom. The new year also creates the opportunity for students to reflect on their past success and failures and set new targets for their academic approach.

While the new year often ignites a studious flame in most students, persistence and consistency can be difficult to attain. Students often start the year with a new vision and new habits, but after the first two weeks of school, they return to their old habits. Does this sound familiar? The underlying cause for this short-lived transformation is the absence of a plan. Without a real plan for how to attain academic success, bolstered by clear targets and SMART goals, a student’s admirable desire for success falls by the wayside. So, the question remains how can parents and educators help students develop goals for sustainable success this school year?

Below, are five powerful principles to guide your student’s goal setting this year. At the end of the day, goals are only as successful as the systems that keep them in place. Powerful systems create productive results. Yes, there are challenges to setting and achieving goals. However, the five ideas below are a great way to guide your student toward a productive, proactive new year.

5 Principles of Goal Setting

1) Start with WHY: Without a strong ‘why’, the ‘how’ is useless. Students need to buy in to these goals in order to success, meaning goal setting must be a conversation, not a lecture. Take time to discuss some of the challenges your student will face as we enter this new year. Strong goals come from a strong desire for self-improvement. This is why reflection is so important. Students need to reflect on what goals truly matter for the upcoming year. Remember, to see results, your child’s goal needs to stem from a desire to improve something about their life. Listen and ask questions. Your goal is not necessarily your student’s goal. Guide the conversation, but make sure your student takes ownership of whatever goals are created.

2) Simplicity is the Key: The best goal is the one that gets accomplished, not the most extravagant. When setting goals with your student, simplicity is essential. Try to focus on one goal area at a time. Yes, students have multi-faceted jobs. Your student might want to improve their grades, their social life, and their athletic performance in one foul swoop. Help him or her contain this excitement and turn it into sustainable growth. Try to narrow down your student’s goals to the three or four changes that will have the most impact. What change would have the most impact?

  • Better organization?
  • Better time management?
  • Frequently visiting teachers in tutorials?
  • More effective note taking that actually helps when studying?
  • Improving sleep quality?
  • Creating a stress management plan?

3) Create SMART Goals: SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. This goal framework creates a pathway or a system for success. We use this in our one-on-one sessions, in our group classes, and even in our company strategy meetings. SMART goals are strong contracts to help your student stay on track. Here are a few examples:

  • SMART GOAL: I will stay organized by filing papers I the correct section of my binder as soon as I receive them. On Sunday night, I will make sure that there are no loose papers in my backpack, room, or car.
    • SMART GOAL: I will write something for each class every day in my binder. “NONE is an option, but only after I have confirmed that there is absolutely nothing I could do to get ahead in this class.
    • SMART GOAL: During class times, I will have only a notebook and a pen on my desk, so the teacher can see that I am on task and care about my success in his or her course.

4) Track your progress: SMART goals are measurable, meaning students can track their goals to turn them into habits. There is plenty of science out there that points to the importance of habit tracking. Encourage your student to track goals daily and build a streak. A simple checklist will do the trick.

5) Celebrate your accomplishments: Each week as you and your student reflect on his or her progress, be proud of the small wins. Celebrate these moments because when habits are rewarded, they are continued. Create some kind of weekly ritual with your student to analyze progress and celebrate success. Recognition goes a long way.

Goals are the bedrock of success. Without a plan, it can be difficult for students to stay motivated. Use the principles above to help your student crush the new year. If you want someone in your corner to help your students set goals, develop better habits, and unless their potential, why not start one-one-one academic coaching? Visit our services page for more information.

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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