3 Tips for Teaching Executive Function and Goal Setting in Schools

As the first quarter of the school year comes into sight, it’s a great time for teaching goal-setting strategies.

Promoting Growth Mindset

By now, students have received their first set of grades and progress reports, giving them some idea of their level of academic performance. By linking grades and progress reports to goal setting and self-reflection, teachers can promote a growth mindset in their students.

Those students whose grades are low are at risk for internalizing a sense of hopelessness; goal setting can help them create a proactive plan to do better. Students whose grades are high are at risk as well; if they are not engaged in reflection, they could easily fall into a fixed mindset, seeing their good grades as a result of being ‘smart’ rather than due to their effort and persistence.

Teaching goal-setting strategies using report cards and progress reports will engage students in the process of reflecting on their strengths and challenges, while creating a plan for how to improve in a way that is meaningful to them.

3 Tips for Goal-Setting Strategies

  • Make sure that students’ goals are appropriately challenging. No matter how successful a student has or hasn’t been, they should select a goal that is hard but not too hard. Encourage students to use “at least” language when they define goals. For example, a student could aim to get “at least a B- on all of my math tests” instead of aiming for “all A’s.” This leads to increased confidence and success.
  • Ensure that students’ goals are connected to their day-to-day lives. While being famous or rich are fine daydreams, they make poor, even dangerous, goals because they do not motivate students in their daily activities. Even if the goal relates to success as an actor, musician, or athlete, make sure that the student has developed ways to work on this goal now, and not in some distant future.
  • When teaching goal setting, address students’ fears directlyToo often students will say that they “don’t have any goals.” To me, this is a sign that the fear of failure prevents them from even naming their goals. Whether you use students’ fears to help set the goals or not, by normalizing this fear, you can help your students begin to create detailed goals and cope with strong feelings such as fear and worry.

Learn More

Follow these three tips and your students will be on the way to creating systematic goals that can guide them throughout the rest of the school year. And remember, it’s not too late for teachers to set their own goals for the year!

Looking to learn more? Check out our Goal Setting overview video, watch a recording of our “Executive Function and Goal Setting” webinar, or check out the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum for strategies to use with your students.

Happy goal setting!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director