What are SMART Goals?

And why should I care about SMART goals?

Short answer: because it will make your life as a teacher so much easier.

Keep reading for the long answer! 

What are SMART Goals?

SMART goals sprang from the idea that specific goals are more likely to be accomplished than generic goals. It’s the same kind of thinking behind IEP goals and benchmarks.

Like IEPs, SMART goals are very specific, include a plan of action and a timetable. They are also realistic and measurable.

SMART GoalsWhile SMART goals were developed to help individuals and businesses, they work for the classroom, too.


Essentially, all of your teaching and progress monitoring and student goal setting should be SMART. In other words, don’t do stuff or plan stuff or teach stuff just because. Do everything with a purpose.

It will take some time to learn and implement, but it can be done. And it can be easy. I started one subject at a time. I tackled math first since it is SO concrete. And I started with just my struggling students.

For each student I looked at current levels and areas that I knew they were weak. For example, one student didn’t know her multiplication facts. Here is my goal for “Susie:”

Susie SMART GoalsNotice how I simply answered each part (SMART) of the goal. I also didn’t make the overall goal too broad (0-12 facts, multiplication and division, etc.). I noted what the student could already do (use manipulatives to solve multiplication), as well as how I would be achieving it (teaching one fact family at a time) and measuring it (weekly assessments). Finally, I established a timeline for the goal. In this example, I started to really focus on this in early October, giving me ample time to achieve the goal while also setting a firm (but flexible) deadline.

Now, if you have to teach the whole class or a small group multiplication, you can expand this goal to include them. Or you can tweak it for other subjects, topics, and needs.

As you meet each goal, set a new one. For “Susie,” the next goal might be the 6-10 multiplication fact families, followed by the 11 and 12 multiplication fact families. As the student accomplishes one thing, you progress to the next harder level.

Not so SMART

smart-725843_640Goals and goal setting are a major player in education right now. And there might be a tendency to go overboard with them. Suddenly, there is a SMART goal for every person, every thing, and every minute of the day.

Don’t do that. 

Instead, prioritize. Can you create on whole class goal using the SMART method? This could be used for unit or lesson planning to really identify the path to mastery of each topic. Do only certain children REALLY need this kind of goal? I tend to use SMART goals mostly with students receiving special education services (IEP goals are SMART!) or for students that are on my “watch list,” kids who are struggling or that I am concerned about.

There might also be the tendency to get TOO specific. Let’s remember that we are dealing with kids here. What worked yesterday might sink like a ton of bricks today. So instead of specifying one particular method of teaching X to a child, maybe write “using a variety of proven methods.” That could include a whole swath of ways to teach, like manipulatives, worksheets, games, flashcards, small group, one-on-one, etc. Don’t limit yourself, is essentially what I am saying.

clock-650753_640Avoid getting too hung up on deadlines. Again, these are children. You could avoid giving a specific date, and instead write “between January and February.” That gives you a range and allows for unplanned for events, like snow days, fire drills, or illness. Also, don’t be afraid to reassess your timeline. If you have an end of the calendar year limit, but the child just isn’t making progress, go to your school based team and ask for help. Push the deadline out until the end of January. Try something new after Winter Break. If it doesn’t 100% happen by your original date, the world will not end. I promise.

Why You Want to be SMART

As mentioned above, SMART goals help to streamline and focus instruction. I know that before I started to use them, I would have papers and project and assignments scattered around my room. Using a goal based teaching system for my planning purposes helped me to narrow my focus.

For whole class instruction, I could use the grade level learning standards. Ask: What precisely do the kids need to know to achieve mastery? Then find materials that support that. It doesn’t have to all be worksheet either. I am a huge supporter of using whiteboard and desks to complete work, as well as playing games galore in the classroom. But instead of being time fillers, each game was now tied to a learning goal that I had created based on the standards and what my kids were capable of at that moment.

day-planner-828611_640The most important thing for me was to write it down and organize it. There are definitely different levels of this, and it can get WAY fancy. I went simple: post-it notes stuck into my master planner. I write it down, file the master copies of each material I need using my system, and then I’m done. My week(s) are planned out way in advance, thanks to SMART goals!

Most importantly, I know what my kids are working towards every minute of every day. Even if the room looks like glitter exploded everywhere.

How do you use SMART goals in your classroom?




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