Be S.M.A.R.T About Your Child’s Education – Setting Goals for the School Year #TeachMeTuesday

As someone who has transitioned from a student to a teacher and a parent, I believe that the yearly calendar actually begins in September and that Labour Day is the true New Year’s Eve. Like that calendrical New Year’s Eve period, the final weeks of August can inspire the making of academic “resolutions”, which are frequently broken within weeks. Kids who were determined to “be more organized” start cramming ripped papers into their backpacks. Kids who wanted to “get better grades” surrender to the siren call of social media rather than studying. Often, this is because their goals are too vague or long-term to stimulate the daily hard work required to meet them.

Smart acronym in business concept, words on cut paper hard light

Helping kids set goals they can meet is one of our most important jobs as parents, teachers, and mentors. I recommend using the SMART criteria as a guide. This acronym, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound is used to evaluate the feasibility of objectives in business or personal coaching. While I’m not usually one for applying business solutions to education, this is definitely one situation where the tools of the corporate world are useful for parents and teachers.

Specific: When you talk about academic goals with your child, encourage him to narrow the focus. Rather than “get better grades”, move the conversation to the how and why of grades and then set action-oriented objectives, such as “every Sunday afternoon, spend 30 minutes per class reviewing the week’s materials” or “track and meet deadlines for assignments and homework”. Instead of “be better organized”, encourage her to “spend 15 minutes at the end of the day sorting and organizing my backpack” or “file all handouts and notes in the appropriate section of my binder right after I receive them”.

Measurable: Help your child to identify tools other than grades to measure his success in achieving goals. Targeted visual tools, such as “to-do” lists with items crossed off or a tracking sheet for “met and missed deadlines”, are a better way to monitor successes and challenges.

Achievable and Realistic: These criteria require honesty and diplomacy. Encouraging a child to do his best while avoiding excessive pressure is a balancing act. Focusing on concrete actions rather than general goals is the key: any child can practice guitar for 30 minutes every day, whether she becomes a master player or a campfire strummer. Goals that are about process rather than performance will build self-esteem and discipline, without adding parental pressure.

Time-Bound: Encourage kids to set goals by the term, month, or even week, rather than forecasting for an entire year. Check in frequently, acknowledge and celebrate success, and be prepared to adjust goals as your child progresses.

When we give our kids advice, we have to “walk the talk”. Role modelling effective goal setting is the most important element in mentoring it. Focusing on process rather than product or performance in our own lives and being honest about our own successes and challenges is key to teaching our kids to do the same.

PMacIsaacHeadshotPam MacIsaac is a writer, teacher, enthusiastic amateur cook, mom, and lifelong pet owner. Her academic coaching practice, Think Academic Enrichment and Support (, offers literacy tutoring, enrichment classes, PA Day and March Break Creativity Camps, and other services for kids in midtown Toronto. She lives in the Arlington Village/Oakwood & Vaughan neighbourhood, and loves her local parks!

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