Starting the year – Outcome goals? Process goals? Or both?
I love the first few days of a new school year. The students return well rested and with stories to tell such as tales of a a tough boss at their first job, the friends and family they visited, or a good experience they had somewhere out there, in the world. Teachers have reshaped curriculum, recharged their batteries, and are excited about meeting a new group of students as well as reconnecting with advisees and others they’ve worked with in prior years.
There is great optimism in September. I recall very clearly the conversations around our dinner table as the new school year approached, familiar and noble refrains included: “I know I can do better in English this year,” or “Our team will surely make it to the New England Tournament,” or “I hope I get a role in the musical.” Nobles is a school filled with young people who value achievement, who set high goals for themselves, and who take great pride in what they accomplish.
When I sit with advisees and discuss their goals for the year, these goals almost always revolve around very specific and measurable outcomes. As an inveterate goal-setter myself, I understand, value, and appreciate how important goal-setting is as one attempts to accomplish something of value. I believe goal-setting is an important thing to learn in adolescence. At Nobles, this “outcome-oriented” approach to goal-setting is one that fits with our culture and reflects the significant talents of our students.
Over the years, I have come to believe that an additional step needs to be taken in the goal-setting process with young people. Too often, both adolescents and adults jump to where they want to go without thinking clearly about how they intend to get there.
Every year when I go through this process with students, I try to get them to become very specific about the process and the behaviors necessary to achieve their goals. I want students to think about behaviors they can control and the potential impact of those behaviors on the intended outcome and on others. For example, if a student wants to improve their performance in a certain discipline, he or she needs to reflect upon what has gone well or not well in the past. A student should think clearly about what needs to change going forward to change the outcome. Some of this reflection would include questions such as: Do I need to read more actively? Shall I make sure I do every math homework problem, every night? Do I need to plan my homework time better so I can get more sleep and be better prepared for my games/practices/rehearsals? How can I be a better teammate or class member?
When I help young people take these steps, it helps them feel a greater level of control over the outcome they seek. Even more importantly, it provides a way for parents to engage their children in a conversation that is explicitly not about results but about process.
Sadly, I have plenty of anecdotal and hard data that shows many Nobles students believe their parents care more about the outcome than about the journey and the opportunities of learning and growth a student can achieve in that journey.
Yes, outcomes are important. Our kids know that. But, as they develop the habits and patterns that will be part of their adult life, they need to know from the adults in their lives that we care about their effort, their attitude, their integrity, and their character as they work towards whatever goals they set. Regardless of the outcome, what they learn about themselves in the process is just as important.
So, as we begin the school year, I’d encourage you to talk with your children not only about their goals but about how they intend to achieve them.