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What are SMART Goals Anyway?

This is part one of a three-post series on SMART goals.

Differences can be recognized between SMART goals and other goal-setting models like the Goal Setting Theory by professor Edwin Locke. SMART goals focus upon problems as opportunities and engage students in their own learning. SMART goals center upon precision, responsibility toward lifelong learning, and understanding by design. With this in mind, we can begin to implement SMART goals in our classrooms and support students as they face challenges during the learning process.1

As educators, our students develop SMART goals as both necessary and valued actions in learning. For this reason, students are more likely to persevere in the face of challenge when they view struggle as a necessary and valued part of learning rather than a sign of personal failure.2

We notice SMART goal setting takes time for both teachers and students to master. Considering this, SMART goals should be realistic and depend upon effort and focus to achieve success. Goals and their timeframes can also have small action steps to support students in the process of reaching their intended goals.3

SMART goals are often described as:

  • Specific. What does the student need to accomplish?
  • Measurable. How can the student demonstrate their learning and/or achievement?
  • Achievable. Short-term goals should provide opportunities for students to experience success on the journey to accomplishing long-term goals.
  • Realistic. Consider how time and resources impact the student and their ability to accomplish a goal.
  • Timely. Student growth will occur in real time.

With SMART goal setting, we begin to develop an open mindset, which can prove meaningful to both student and personal growth. With SMART goals top of mind, we embolden students to create their own path to success, all the while transforming how students conquer the challenges they might encounter during their own learning.2

In this fashion, SMART goals have the opportunity to reveal constructive ways to make overwhelming goals attainable, expand the realm of the possible, and create new possibilities for every student.1


1. Frederick M. Hess, The Cage-Busting Teacher (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2015).

2. “Fostering Perseverance: Inspiring Students to be ‘Doers of Hard Things,’ ” Teaching Children Mathematics 21, no. 1 (2014): 5-7, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5951/teacchilmath.21.1.0005

3. Maurice J. Elias, “SMART Goal Setting With Your Students,” Edutopia, August 27, 2014, http://www.edutopia.org/blog/smart-goal-setting-with-students-maurice-elias

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