New year, new goals—right? But how many of you have set New Year’s goals that just seem to fizzle out right along with your holiday mood? Ugh. We get it. And if it’s hard for adults, just think about what a struggle it is for your students to make and stick to their goals. They’re teens! They have a hard time deciding what color shoes to get, much less making a choice that’s going to affect the rest of their year.
As their teacher, you’re not just preparing your students for what’s going to be on a test—you are preparing them for the real world. Get them talking about their goals for this year and planning ways to stay motivated.
Here are the characteristics that all goals should have in order to achieve the best results, plus some tips for talking about those goals in the classroom:
1. Your students’ goals should be their own.
Ever had someone try to convince you to set a certain goal? “You should eat more leafy greens.” “You should become a doctor.” “You should start running.” Yeah, it doesn’t exactly fire you up.
Goals work best when you genuinely want them to happen, and you know why you want them to happen. This is just as true for high schoolers. They probably hear a lot about goals that their parents would like them to achieve—and those are probably very worthwhile goals, like getting accepted to college or getting enough sleep. But if the goal doesn’t come from the students themselves, the motivation won’t be there.
It’s important for everyone—even young adults—to take some time to think about the big vision for their future and set goals that work toward that vision. Their plans may change later, and that’s okay. This is a time to dream big, crazy dreams and see how practical action steps can make those dreams more reachable.
At the beginning of the semester, try leading your students in some brainstorming sessions. You could start with freewriting or journaling, making a photo collage, discussing in groups, or whatever works best for your class. First, encourage them to talk about their big-picture goals for their life. What would they want to do if they didn’t have any fear or other limitations? This could be anything from running their own business to graduating from Harvard to being a professional video game tester. (Yes, that’s a real thing—and the job can earn an average salary of over $50K!)1
Then, ask them to talk or write about why they want what they want. Is it because they know they’d actually enjoy it? Do they want to help people? Do they want to keep doing something they’re already good at? Any of their answers could potentially open up a great discussion!
You could also have the students write a letter to their 50-year-old selves. What goals, financial or otherwise, do they want to have accomplished by that age?
2. Your students’ goals should be specific and measurable.
We all know that phrase, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Well, that’s how it works for goals. The dreaming part is great, but if you only ever have a general, vague idea of what you want to accomplish, it won’t happen. It’ll just be some great idea floating around in outer space. Making a goal specific and measurable makes it more realistic and likely to happen.
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This doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, the goal to be healthier can become, “I will drink eight glasses of water a day and run three days a week.” Or, get into a good college can become, “I will raise my ACT score by two points and apply to at least five schools.”
Instruct your students to revisit their big-picture goals, and then challenge them to brainstorm smaller goals that could help them get there. How would they break down their huge goal into action steps?
Once your students have those smaller goals in mind, they can refine them by figuring out some ways to make them as specific as possible. They could do this in groups and help each other out, or this could be a solo activity that you individually coach them on. Either way, they should be thinking about simple steps that are within reach. (Winning the lottery so they can start their own business doesn’t count.)
3. Your students’ goals should be timeline driven.
Goals are all fun and games until you slap a timeline on them and tell other people that you’re actually going to complete them within that timeline. It’s easy to say, “I want to run a marathon,” when the time frame is someday. But when is someday? We need concrete dates, people.
Deadlines have a way of lighting a fire under students (especially when it’s the night before a project is due and they haven’t even started yet—let’s be real). But students can’t expect to do that hard-core analysis of To Kill A Mockingbird in just one night. And they can’t achieve their big-picture goals overnight either! It takes time, dedication and accountability.
Now that your students have some specific goals in mind, it’s time for them to create some timelines! This could be as simple as adding dates to the goals they’ve already established. For example, “I will raise my ACT score by two points and apply to at least five schools by the end of this semester.”
The next step in sticking to their timeline is having an accountability partner who can help them stay motivated along the way. Students may choose to share their goals with their families. Or, you could even direct students to team up in groups of two or three to share their goals and tell each other their deadlines.
4. Your students’ goals should be in writing.
Writing down your goals is a lot like making a budget. Once you see it on paper, on purpose, it’s a lot harder to ignore. Your students may already have their list of goals stored in their minds or on their phones, but now they can get intentional about writing them down as an assignment.
Ask your students to choose just one goal to seriously focus on throughout the course of the semester. It can be one of the goals on their list, or you might choose to challenge every student to make one money-related goal.
For example, you might ask each of your students to set an amount of money they want to save by the end of the semester to put toward their $500 emergency fund (First Foundation for the win)! Their goal for the semester doesn’t have to be $500—especially if they don’t have a job yet—but if that is their goal, great!
Then, make sure they record their goal by writing it as a complete sentence and turning it in to you. You can also encourage them to keep their “goal sentence” in plain sight—whether that’s in their locker, taped on their bathroom mirror at home, or on the wall in the classroom. (This will help them remember that they’re supposed to be saving money and not spending it all on fast food.) If you choose to have your students set money-saving goals, try instructing them to log their progress using this fun downloadable chart! And don’t forget to celebrate with them at the end of the semester by totaling up the amount of money saved by the entire class—it may be a way bigger number than any of you were expecting!
After all, nothing beats knowing that you achieved something you set out to do, especially if it was really hard. That experience will help your students’ confidence grow (right along with their savings account). If you want more tips from a Foundations In Personal Finance teacher on how to encourage your students with their goals, check out this teacher spotlight! Happy goal setting!