As a new year begins, you may wonder how you can help your middle or high school student re-calibrate a bit for the second half of the school year. Perhaps you’d like to see some new habits established that will lead to better academic outcomes in the spring semester. And while it’s tempting to sit your student down for a serious motivational talk, there’s wisdom in first thinking through the goal-setting process to help your child take personal ownership of those targets and embrace the challenge to move forward. The start of the new year is a natural opportunity to plan some productive changes. Let’s frame the conversation!
What’s the Big Picture?
Even if the first thing on your mind is the desire for better grades overall or in a specific subject, try to keep the bigger picture in mind. By allowing your child to participate in setting their own goals, you could empower them to become a lifelong learner. They’ll also be more likely to stick to a plan if they’re involved.
Begin by asking your child in what areas they see the need for improvement. It’s possible they will need time to reflect on setting new goals. This could be a conversation you begin and then return to several days later after giving them some time for introspection. One definition of a goal is something you work hard to be able to do — a promise you make to yourself to achieve. If your child is motivated by challenges, consider using language such as, “I challenge you to move from a C to a B in History this quarter.”
Make It a Two-Way Conversation
You might launch the discussion by acknowledging your own aspirations for the new year. If you’ve established goals like eating better and exercising more, it’s possible that demonstrating your own plan in setting measurable goals (eliminating or reducing junk food and exercising three days each week) and logging progress (using a fitness tracker and a food journal) could be a powerful example and motivation for your child. By sharing your own goals, you may even gain an unexpected accountability partner!
Are Your Goals SMART?
Many educators refer to goals that are SMART, an acronym for targets that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. A specific SMART goal might be “I will turn in all my homework on time for the third quarter,” versus a vague goal, “I’ll do better with homework.” If a goal is too general, it is no better than wishful thinking.
Measurement keeps the plan on track and can be as simple as using a spreadsheet or checklist in a journal to record progress. If the goal isn’t attainable or realistic, it can be demoralizing to a student who is struggling. Encourage your child to start with highly attainable goals and then celebrate the victories! Remember that each goal achieved can build a student’s confidence and inspire them to set even higher goals in the future. Be quick to affirm your child’s efforts.
Goals Extend Beyond the Academic
While it’s normal to look at classroom performance as a key barometer of student success, think about some of the other areas in which goal setting might benefit your child or your entire family. Consider the categories of
- Health (eating, exercise, and sleep),
- Organization (time management, keeping supplies and books accessible, establishing household routines),
- Relationships (listening, spending time together, speaking with kindness and
- Personal growth (limiting screen time, taking risks to try new things), and
- Spiritual growth (following personal habits of prayer, Bible reading, and service).
These areas share some obvious interconnection; it often takes other family members to make change a reality for the student. For example, if the academic goal requires greater organization, it could be that a household routine with more order and fewer distractions might help your child complete homework on time.
Build Support for Changes
There’s a fine line between nagging and issuing helpful reminders. An app like MyHomework might be a useful tool to help your student organize homework assignments and establish their own reminders. Is there a responsible classmate who might serve as an accountability partner when distractions arise? The hardest part of the goal-setting process might be continuing past the initial burst of enthusiasm.
Behavioral psychologists differ on how long it takes for a new habit to “stick,” with estimates ranging from as few as 21 days for a simple lifestyle change, to a more realistic two-month timeframe for a substantial life adjustment. Be ready to show grace and understanding when your child gets sidetracked, and then encourage them to return to their plan. Consider making check-in times more pleasant by scheduling a review of goals over ice cream or at a coffee shop. Emphasize the ways in which measuring and achieving goals will help your child in other areas they enjoy such as athletics or fine arts.
There’s a Team That Will Help
We’re happy to report that Indian Rocks Christian School in Largo, FL provides a strong and well-qualified support team of educators who can help your child set practical, attainable goals and achieve success!
Set a new course for the spring semester. Request information about IRCS today.