New Goals for a New Year

Guide your pupils in making goals and achieving them through specific action steps and consistent accountability.

By Bethany Bodenhamer



The New Year is a popular time to make resolutions which are often fervently sought after for a few short weeks, and then quickly abandoned. The lack of follow-through can be attributed towards too lofty of a resolve, no direct plan, and no accountability. Due to the short track-life of such resolutions, I encourage my students to set academic and personal goals instead. The beginning of a new year, or even a new semester, is a great time to do this.

Many pupils might be unfamiliar with what a goal is, why it is important, or how it works. Therefore, you need to specifically teach them the process of goal setting, and more importantly—model it for them.

Teach Them How

  1. Define the word. You cannot assume that your students, regardless of age, fully understand what a goal is. Give a mini-lesson in which you break down the dictionary definition, provide examples and even instances from history in which leaders set goals and accomplished them.
  1. Give them direction. Just saying, “Okay, class, set some goals!” can be a very overwhelming and confusing task. Guide your pupils’ ambitions by suggesting they set an academic, community, and personal objective. More importantly, show them what these types of aims look like.
  1. Make the goals measurable. For instance, discourage generic ambitions, such as “I want to get a better grade in math”, or “participate more”. Require them to indicate the actual grade they want to receive and how exactly they want to participate more.
  1. Have them set action steps. Making a goal is more than making a goal. You must have a plan behind it otherwise you are in danger of quickly giving up. Two to three specific actions per aim will increase the likelihood of accomplishing these feats. 

Modeling Goal Setting

Many people are visual learners, and all people benefit from seeing examples. One thing to be careful of is to not give your class so many examples that they have a hard time coming up with their own unique responses.

Come up with your own academic, community, and personal goals, and write them on the white board for your class to view. Explain why you chose what you did and how you plan on achieving them. Be genuine and open; your pupils will appreciate it and provide you with their own authentic aspirations in return. 

Keep Them Accountable

  1. Collect the goals. A good way to do this is to disperse index cards. Have the names and goals written on the same side, and organize by class into a 3x5 card box.
  1. Read them! Spend time really reading what your students are working towards.
  1. Have conversations about them. As they walk in the door or as you pass back homework, briefly to mention individual pupils what you liked about their goals.
  1. Have private meetings to check in when certain actions are not mirroring their stated objectives. If one wanted to increase their punctuality by being tardy no more than three times, talk to them the first time they are tardy. If a pupil wants to improve their essay grades by five percent but has yet to submit a rough draft to you, pull them aside and gently remind them of their goal and encourage a change in directions. 

Example Goals


  • Maintain a 3.5 GPA.

o  Action steps: Two hours of studying each night, get tutored in math

  • Advance into an honors English next semester.

o  Action steps: Meet with English teacher to see what areas I need to improve in for an honors level course, journal daily, read books off the next grade level list

  • Participate three times a week in class discussions.

o  Action steps: Ask teacher to call on me more, change seats if distracted by peers, have all distractions (binders, phone, other work) put away during class


  • Join a club on campus.

o  Action steps: Get the list of clubs from student leadership, try two to three clubs to see what I am most interested in.

  • Complete 25 more community service hours than the required amount.

o  Action steps: set up a time with my counselor to discuss options of organizations to work with, talk to parents about which days after school I am free.

  • Meet three new people in my classes that I am not friends with.

o  Action steps: choose people I don’t normally work with for group assignments


  • Read a new book every month.

o  Action Steps: get a list of recommended books from library, find out what my friends’ favorite books are, no visiting friends on the weekend until I have spent a minimum of one hour that week reading.

  • Bake a new recipe once a month with mom.

o  Action Steps: print out a list of new recipes to try, put dates in calendar now to spend time with mom

This is a fun and beneficial activity that has the potential to impact your learners for the rest of their lives as they get into the habit of goal setting. Try it out!  

Lesson Planet Resources:

Creative Goal Setting

In this article, the author proves that setting goals can be a fun and rewarding experience for all ages. Read this for great creative suggestions on how to implement goal setting in the classroom and motivate success through awards for accomplishments.

Goal Setting Simulation 

This is a fantastic, physical lesson that teaches learners (K-8) the basics of setting a goal, why to do it and how to do it. Using a soccer ball, a simple task and a guided discussion, you can vividly demonstrate how to set an effective goal and the benefits of doing so. Your class is sure to love this one! 

Goal Setting Guided Handout

This resource is a great tool for those who need a bit more structure and guidance when setting goals. This handout provides the space for educational and personal goals, as well as the necessary actions steps to reach success. While best for secondary students, this can be adapted to fit any level.