Do you have a lot of great ideas and passion but sometimes lose focus before you see them to fruition? Or maybe your school wants you to begin working toward meeting some self-imposed goals?  Have you heard of SMART Goals?  Read on to learn about the components of SMART Goals and to see how the process can help you in your goal-setting efforts. 

What Is a SMART Goal?

SMART is an acronym used to construct a goal with these five crucial components. 

S: Specific.  The goal is precise.  There’s no doubt about what success will look like come attainment.  Specific goals can be stated in a simple sentence: I want to learn and use five new strategies to help increase my ELLs’ language proficiency.  The more specific a goal is, the less chance of ambiguity in how to meet the goal. 

M: Measurable.  Good goals are met or not.  This is simplified through making the goal quantifiable.  Success can be seen and counted.  This makes it easy to determine whether the goal has been met or more work is yet to be done.  There is no ambiguity or vagueness.  For example, Students will increase their score on the benchmark assessment by 5%.  Some simple calculations will determine whether this goal was met or exceeded. 

A: Attainable.  SMART Goals are realistic.  They can be lofty, but they’re reachable.  There’s no sense in setting yourself up for failure.  Attainable doesn’t have to stifle your creativity or put a ceiling on your ambitions.  Attainability means it’s possible to meet the goal.  This requires goals only be set if they’re within the control of the goal setter to achieve.  Remember, if you must rely on someone else to meet the goal, it isn’t entirely attainable, like if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain. 

R: Relevant.  Good goals matter.  If you’re going to go through the process of writing and vetting a goal, it had better be an important one.  This isn’t to say that a personal passion isn’t relevant to the needs of an organization as a whole.  Relevant or important mean different things to different people.  Only the goal-setter can determine whether the goal is a valuable one.  But that’s the beauty of goal setting: the opinion of the one doing the work is the only one that matters.

T: Time-Bound.  SMART Goals have a definite beginning and end.  This is part of their intentional structure.  Open-ended goals are less successful because the goal-setter can always artificially extend the deadline until the goal is eventually met or forgotten about.  Keeping a time constraint on your goal will increase the likelihood that you stay invested in the goal and work toward its completion.  A logical time frame in school settings is a year.  Smaller goals may need much less time. 

SMART Goals are used by educators, students, businesspeople, managers, or anyone interested in making a goal and sticking with it until achievement.  These five components help goal setters create goals with successful completion in mind. 

Why Use SMART Goals?

SMART goals help goal setters work smarter, not harder.  Educators use them to better their practice, meet student needs, or increase student achievement, and they do so in a uniform, strategic fashion. 

Research shows that goals are most successful when they’re written down.  The act of putting the goal in writing solidifies it.  Goal setters commit to the action steps when they’re written down.  Additionally, this Harvard publication on goal setting states that setting goals is effective for the students of the goal setters, too:

When instructors set explicit learning goals, students have a clear picture of course expectations, helping them to concentrate their efforts efficiently toward the attainment of those goals. Instructors can also outline objectives to guide students to accomplish learning goals.

Today’s educators are often required to set goals as part of an evaluation or to show growth through a professional improvement plan.  SMART Goals are a useful tool in this process.  Less time is spent on ineffective goals, and more time is spent fine-tuning the details of the goal before diving into its completion.  This means more success for goal setters.  And more time to move on to achieving additional goals!

SMART Goals take the goal setting process beyond the usual who, what, where, when, why and how and include crucial details that are often overlooked.  The reason why many goals fail or sputter out is that they’re not well constructed from the start.  When less time and energy is put into creating the goal, it’s easy to cast it aside.  When the goal is carefully selected, refined, and written down, it’s more real

SMART Goals assist goal setters in making sure they’ve got the logistics of their goal down.  There’s nothing worse than making a goal, working toward its completion, and then weeks or months down the road realizing that the goal isn’t working for your purposes.  Then you have to start all over and construct a new goal.  Using SMART Goals ensures this won’t happen.  Goal setters hash out all of the important factors of the goal as part of the process of creating it.   

How To Create a SMART Goal

To create a SMART goal, begin by asking yourself what topics interest you?  Start big in the beginning; no holding back.  Make a broad wish list of items.  What are areas for improvement in your professional practice?  What about areas of need in your student population or community?  After you’ve brainstormed, narrow down your list to a priority topic, and ask yourself the traditional fact-finding questions.  Ask yourself: who, what, where, when, and why? 

Once you have all the required information mapped out about your topic, it’s time to dive into the specifics of your goal.  Use the SMART Goal mnemonic to consider and include the five crucial components.  It’s important to write out your goal when it’s completed.  It’s most effective to pare it down to a single sentence or short bulleted list so you can post it somewhere visible to act as a reminder or motivator. 

How to Align SMART Goals to School-Wide Goals

SMART goals are most effective when they’re created with the structure of school-wide goals as a guidepost.  With school-wide goals, it’s best to focus efforts on a common topic so educators aren’t trying to do too much.  This way, goals can be met and results measured.  To align SMART Goals with school-wide goals, first determine what goals the school has.  Of those goals, which parts of them do educators have a choice over? 

SMART Goals are easily implemented school-wide with a little analysis of school data.  For instance, if a school is working on literacy achievement and the data says that students aren’t spending their time reading, then it’s obvious that goals would be helpful in the area of getting books in students’ hands.  So, first determine your school’s needs.  What does the data say?  Where are areas for growth?  What areas have you had success in, and how can that translate to other areas of need?  Narrow that need into a specific, actionable statement. 

Next, how can this need be turned into a measurable goal?  Can you see an increase on assessment data or observable behaviors on a holistic checklist?  Afterward, don’t forget to ask yourself if this goal is attainable.  Is it possible that 100% of students can experience growth in an area?  Absolutely!  Can you control how many days your students show up for school?  Not really.  Make sure your goal centers around the factors that you do have control over.  And lastly, place a time constraint on your goal.  Whether it’s a yearlong or weeklong goal, knowing where the finish line is will increase your chances of success. 

Some other ways to tie SMART Goals to your school initiatives would be to have a goal reflect each of the statements in your school mission or vision statement, increase student achievement in lagging areas, incorporate new technology, or create and implement programs to help teachers’ practice and parent involvement.  What’s most important about aligning SMART Goals to school initiatives is following the SMART format with fidelity.  Including all the components will guarantee you’re working with a well-constructed goal that’s primed for success. 

Using SMART Goals is a great way to see to it that your goals are met.  No more wasting time with the best intentions on a goal that never makes it past ideation.  Create SMART Goals, write them down, review them often, and reap the professional and personal rewards of goal achievement.  Let your SMART Goal do the hard work for you—let them make you SMART-er!

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