Goal-Setting and Self-Management for Students in the New Year

New Year, New You. That's the message we see so frequently this time of year, as people begin to focus on resolutions for self-improvement. And going into 2020, the pressure to re-invent oneself feels heightened as we enter a new decade—reflecting on where we've been and where we want to go. I'm all about self-improvement, but I worry that the stress of consistently hearing we need to improve in some way sends an implicit message, particularly to younger people, that we're never going to be good enough. Do our students feel the same anxieties to re-invent themselves as many adults do? Are they learning to improve because they love themselves, or because they feel they're wrong or lacking in some way?

When I was a student, I loved setting New Year's resolutions. My childhood resolutions were always goal-oriented, but oftentimes just set playfully for myself and very rarely followed through on. And by the time I entered high school, I realized a lot of my friends were making resolutions to lose weight or to look a certain way, which made making resolutions feel more like a chore than something fun. 

Being able to set goals for oneself and then self-manage to achieve them is a critical life skill, but also a concept that can get warped with New Year's Resolution-setting pressures. So, how can teachers leverage this time of year to teach a practical lesson, that could also help to alleviate some holiday anxieties their students might be feeling? In the spirit of my old love for resolutions, I pulled together a few ideas to ring in the new decade by teaching practical goal-setting and self-management.

One way to help your students understand how to set and achieve their goals is through Solomon Cameron. Solomon is an Australian teenager who set a goal for himself to become the youngest person to fly solo around Australia and to raise money to help people around his country receive medical care.

The GoFundMe page for Soloman's Angel Flight fundraiser

After realizing he wanted to learn how to fly planes, Solomon raised money to take aviation classes. Once he learned to fly, he then continued to fundraise to support Angel Flight, an organization that helps people reach doctors and hospitals. Not only was Solomon able to achieve his personal aviation goals, he was able to set new goals for himself and to continue to rise to meet them.

Take five minutes to watch Solomon's story and then invite your class to discuss Solomon's goals and how he worked to achieve them. After specifically discussing Solomon, ask your students what they feel passionate about and what they could do to support a cause that matters to them, "Is there something you're motivated to try? What steps could you take to reach your goal?"

Instead of writing down "resolutions," your students can write a letter to themselves detailing their goal and the steps they will take to achieve it. Let them know that you'll all be opening the letter up again later in the year to check in on your progress. Encourage them to set specific examples and to remain realistic on something they can achieve in a few months. Remind them to set a timeline that will help them keep on-track to meet their goals. If students are struggling to come up with goals, provide categories such as: things you hope to learn, skills you hope to acquire, people you hope to meet, or change you want to see happen.

Another option is to have your students discuss their goals together, and people with similar goals can join together to collaborate on next steps. Or, set a shared goal for something you can do as a class for your school or community. Extend the project further by asking students to research ways in which their passions can be tapped into to help others, just as Solomon did by turning his love of flying into a way to help people access medical care.

The key is to remind students to focus on their skills (and not their perceived deficiencies) in order to set meaningful goals and then continue to work towards achieving them. Learning to do so will help students by improving their sense of self-worth and demonstrating how they can use their unique skills to create the positive change they want to see, both in themselves and the world.

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For more ideas and support, use the full free lesson plan for Grades 4–8, “Write a Goal-Setting Letter To Yourself," to help students build self-management competencies by setting and working toward a personal or academic goal.

Each webisode of Carmen Sandiego’s Fearless Kids Around the World comes paired with free social-emotional learning activities following the CASEL framework to build relevant competencies. Download these SEL activities and lesson plans to inspire your students at carmensandiego.com/fearlesskids.