Goal Setting and a New School Year by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
"Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory."
At the beginning of each school year I sit with each of my advisees, my class and my team and talk about the importance of setting goals for the coming year. Early in my career I would let students get away with simple and fairly obvious goals; “I want to get a B+ average” or “We want the team to make the New England Tournament” or “Get an A range grade in your class”. After a few years of accepting goals like that I wised up and forced those students to articulate specific actions they needed to take in order to achieve their goals – and I got better results; the students were more precise about steps they needed to take (“I need to see my teacher for extra help when I struggle with a topic.”). Engaging in those conversations was productive and I hope helped my advisee/student/player begin to think through what exact measures needed to be taken to maximize the chances of realizing one’s goals.
But it is only in recent years that I have tried to get students (and my own children) to distinguish between "outcome" goals and "process" goals. Most adolescents can easily and comfortably come up with realistic outcome goals – they are generally self aware about their strengths and limitations in a variety of forums. But many adolescents are really challenged to think not only about specific steps they need to take but also to think about what kind of overall process or approach they could take in order to accomplish their appropriate outcome goals. Examples of such process goals can range from "giving best effort in all endeavors" to "approaching my work with curiosity" to "getting to know my teachers – and letting them get to know me."
The world we live in at Nobles is one geared towards results – specific grades, wins/losses, college acceptances, etc. and students can find themselves so focused on the results that they (and we as parents) forget that there is value in the journey regardless of the destination (although, obviously, we need realistic destinations or "outcomes"). I’ve sensed a shift in recent years around increased attention being paid to outcomes and much less value being placed on process – and that is deeply concerning to me.
Now that my kids are in college, I more fully appreciate what the journey of Nobles meant for each of them (and they had very different experiences here) – and how that journey has prepared them extraordinarily well for what life is throwing at them now. As you sit down with your son or daughter (which I hope you will do) to talk about the upcoming year I’d encourage you to help her or him create some realistic outcome goals – but also to spend time talking about the process and approach it will take to get there. In the end, the learning that comes from "the process" (and trying to shape the process) will far outweigh the value of whatever "outcomes" might be hoped for.