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Writing a SMART Goal

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high
and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

Goal Fundamentals

Goals should be SMART in order to be meaningful and achievable.


S – Specific & Clearly Stated

Write specific goals.  A specific goal has several dimensions. It specifies an end state or is a description of a situation after it has been improved. It is your attempt to envision how a particular set of practices would appear if someone observed you effectively engaging in the practices. One proven method to help you think about the future is to describe the present circumstances and then describe what one would observe in future with the less than satisfactory elements missing.

M- Measureable & Based on Data

Write goals that can be quantified. The quantification of your goal may be stating a frequency of an occurrence for a behavior, the duration of a behavior or a specific level of performance for a task. A complex goal might well have more than one measurement to judge its implementation. The value in quantifying goals is that it allows one to track progress and judge when they have achieved their goals.

A – Attainable & Realistic

Write goals that can be accomplished. An ever present tension in goal setting is to refrain from setting goals that are so simplistic that they do not bring about a change in practice as opposed to setting goals that are so idealistic that one can never realistically obtain the desired outcome. It is good to keep in mind that when you are attempting to improve your practice to solve some persistent problem that setting a destination that seems distance can lead to an improvement in your effectiveness even if you fall short of the destination. Setting specific performance indicators or objectives that track progress toward the goal can help one see movement toward the goal even if the goal seems to be difficult to obtain.

R – Relevant to Student Achivement and Performance

Write goals that specify relevant Outcomes. A goal that is relevant is one that will result in improvement in your fundament al task. If you are an instructor, then the fundamental task is to produce student learning and any goal you set for yourself should result in improved student learning. If you choose a goal that will not result in improved learning, then it will not improve your practice. One should not judge a goal not to be relevant too quickly. It is not unusual for one to experience a temporary decrease in effectiveness as one learns new skills.

T – Time Bound

Write goals that include a timeline for accomplishment. A goal without a deadline for accomplishment is a goal that will most likely never be accomplished. Professional development goals need both short term and long term deadlines. The short term deadlines should specify performance targets that the professional can obtain as they work to accomplish the goals. These specific performance targets are tasks that help one change practices so they can achieve their goal.

After setting the short term goals, one can determine how much time should be allowed to reach the professional development goal. If one sets timelines that are so short that the person does not have time to complete the task, it will frustrate them and their progress toward the completion of the task. Timelines that are too long encourage procrastination and uneven progress toward goal achievement.



Perhaps an example would help to illustrate what is meant by a specific goal. The example offered is an imaginary dialogue between Dan, an experienced instructor, and Frank , who is early in his first semester of teaching.

Dan, “How are things going for you?”

Frank, “I feel like I am just trying to keep up. It seems to me that I am just a day ahead of the students.”

Dan, “I can remember the feeling well; I felt that way when I first began to teach. You have so much to do to be well prepared and ready or not the students will be there for you to teach. What is troubling you the most about your classroom?”

Frank, “I wish my students would behave better.”
Dan, “What behaviors would you like to see changed?”

Frank, “I have a hard time getting them to settle down and get to work. After we begin the lesson, some student will begin a conversation with their neighbor, then when I correct them, they say, ‘I wasn’t talking!’. Other times I look around and someone has their head on their desk or they will be reading something besides their text book, which means they are not paying attention. It seems that all I do is correct behavior and that takes time from teaching.”

Dan, “I can remember having some of those same problems when I first began to teach. It helped me to learn some better classroom management skills. What would student behavior in your classroom look like if students were behaving just as you would wish they would?”

Frank, ”They would be doing what I told them without me having to constantly get on them.”

Dan, “Then you would be happy if your students voluntarily obeyed classroom and safety rules all of the time.”

Frank, “That would be great, but I think most students need an occasional reminder.”

Dan, “I agree, so shall we make the goal, students voluntarily obey classroom and safety rules with no more than 5 reminders per instructional period.”

Frank, “That certainly would be a great improvement.”

Dan, “Yes it will be an improvement. We have thought about eliminating some of the behaviors that you don’t appreciate.  What would you like to see your students doing?

Frank, “I want them to do the lesson.”

Dan, “Yes, that is what we are about. Would you be satisfied if students engaged in learning activities for the entire instructional period?

Frank, “Yes, I sure think that would make my job easier.”
Dan, “I agree, so our goals will be:

Students voluntarily obey classroom and safety rules with no more 5 reminders per class period.

Students are engaged in learning activities for the entire class period.

Frank, “That sounds great but how am I going to get there?

Dan, “That is our next step; we need to find some things for you to do to do to make it possible for you to achieve your goals."












Doran, George T. "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write managements's goals and objectives."Management Review 70.11 (Nov. 1981)

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