Goal Setting and Reflection

These strategies promote ownership of learning and help students track their progress over time in pursuit of realistic goals
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Goal Setting

About This Strategy

This collection of protocols teaches students how to establish meaningful SMART goals that lead to increased student ownership over learning. On a regular basis, students have the opportunity to revisit their goals and track their progress using protocols such as WOOP, Post-it Note Goal Setting, GOAL journaling, and/or Daily or Weekly goal setting and reflection protocols. These strategies lead to increased student motivation and promote a personalized approach that gives each student the chance to establish unique goals and monitor their progress toward meeting those goals.

SMART Goal Setting

  1. Decide frequency of goal setting practice for students. (Once a day? Once a week? Once a unit?)

  2. Identify the characteristics of an effective goal that promotes growth. Use the SMART framework:

    • Specific: The goal should be simplistically written and clearly define what the participant is going to do. This should address the what, why, and how of the goal.

    • Measurable: The goal should be measurable so that the participant has tangible evidence that he/she has accomplished the goal.

    • Achievable: The goal should stretch the individual slightly so the he/she feels challenged, but defined well enough so that the goal feels feasible. The participant must possess the appropriate knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to achieve the goal.

    • Realistic: The participants may need support understanding what kind of goals are achievable given the available resources. To scaffold support, allow participants to select from a predefined list of behaviors or academic needs to help support the creation of realistic goals. 

    • Timely: The goal should be linked to a timeframe that creates a practical sense of urgency for the individual.

  3. Ask students to develop 2-3 SMART Goals, and record them in a journal, Google Doc, or using DataBox (see resource below). Consider using the SMART goal template (resource below).

  4. Have students periodically revisit their goals, and write reflections on whether or not they're on track to achieve their goals.

WOOP Goal-Setting Protocol

The WOOP protocol is a strategy designed and tested by Professor Gabriele Oettingen at New York University to help people do the things they really want to do. This strategy supports students to specify a Wish, identify and imagine the best possible Outcome, anticipate and imagine the critical Obstacles to achieving that outcome, and form a simple if-then Plan to overcome the obstacles should they arise. The WOOP protocol has been shown to improve effort, homework completion, attendance, GPA, stress levels, and overall health - significantly more so than unstructured "positive thinking." The WOOP protocol helps students develop a growth mindset, as they identify the key practices and activities that will help them achieve their goals. The WOOP protocol can also be used by instructional coaches to support teachers in strengthening a plan for their teaching before implementing.

Implementation steps:

The steps below have been adapted from the Character Lab WOOP Protocol Playbook and the WOOP My Life website, which provide many helpful resources and worksheets.  

  1. Begin by researching the WOOP protocol to ensure you understand the purpose and steps. See the resources section below for a selection of texts, videos, and podcasts that explain the WOOP protocol.
  2. Consider trying WOOP for yourself before introducing it to students - think through and identify your own wish, outcome, obstacle, and plan.
  3. Preview the WOOP protocol steps for students. Explain to them how it is different from goal-setting strategies they may have used before.
    • See the Prep Activity in the Character Lab WOOP Protocol Playbook for a possible structure to introduce the protocol.
    • Consider playing one of the WOOP protocol videos or podcasts provided in the resources section below.
  4. Have students work through the 4 steps of the WOOP Protocol:
    • Wish: What is an important wish that you want to accomplish?
      • Have students draft a wish that is challenging but feasible, and that they can reasonably fulfill within a limited time-frame (less than 4 weeks).
      • Ask students to summarize their wish in 3-6 words.
    • Outcome: If you accomplish your wish, what will be the best, most fulfilling, most positive result or outcome? How will you feel?
      • Ask students to pause and really imagine the outcome as fully as they can. You may even want students to close their eyes to visualize the outcome!
      • Ask students to summarize their outcome in 3-6 words, or consider using a bulleted list if they identify more than one outcome.
    • Obstacle: What is the main obstacle inside you that might prevent you from accomplishing your wish? What is it within you (i.e. an emotion, an irrational belief, or a bad habit) that will hold you back from fulfilling your wish?
      • Ask students to pause and really imagine the obstacle. Make sure the obstacle is something internal, i.e. under their control, rather than external, i.e. circumstances/events they cannot control.
      • Ask students to summarize their obstacle in 3-6 words, or consider using a bulleted list if they identify more than one outcome.
    • Plan: What's an effective action to tackle the obstacle? Identify one action you can take or one thought you can think to overcome your obstacle.
      • Ask students to frame their plan using an "If/When…[obstacle], then…[action or thought to overcome obstacle]" statement.
      • Ask students to summarize their plan in 3-6 words.
  5. Have students practice using the WOOP protocol so they become comfortable using and referencing it. You may find that the protocol is especially impactful for students at the start of a year/semester/unit, or before an important test or quiz.
  6. Students should be given the opportunity to reflect on how they did with the goal they set using the WOOP protocol and to compare this outcome with previous outcomes when they set goals without WOOP. This reflection will be essential for students to build the capacity to use WOOP unprompted by their teacher.
    • Consider prompting students with reflective questions such as: "Did you do better with your goal this time than you usually do? Why? What step of WOOP was the most helpful to you? Why?"

GOAL Journaling to Reflect and Grow Daily

GOAL journaling is a 4 step process, best executed when the first two steps are done at the beginning of a class period, a day, or a week, and when the other two steps are done at the end the period, day, or week.

The first two steps (G, O) are "looking forward steps" inviting students to express gratitudes (G) and set objectives (O) for a class period. These objectives are not directly related to the daily lesson objective, but to bigger personal objectives that students are invited to create every quarter.

The last two steps (A, L) are "looking back steps" inviting students to write personal affirmations (A), small wins for the day, as well as lessons learned (L) that can be inspired by mistakes made.

Students at every grade level and in every content area can benefit from practicing this routine. Modifications can easily be implemented for younger students to be able to record their reflections, instead of writing them, as the desired outcome of this strategy is to make all students more likely to reach their big goals by breaking them down into manageable steps. It is important that the students communicate these goals to themselves and possibly to an accountability partner to create a space for reflection, learnings, and gratitude, which helps students feel grounded and balanced between what they have accomplished and what they still have to do.

Implementation steps:

  1. Decide whether your students will set Daily Goals or Weekly goals and familiarize yourself with the Daily GOAL Template and the Weekly GOAL Template.
  2. Practice  by utilizing the three templates yourself for a week. Set two to three big professional or personal goals for yourself for the quarter. Set your first weekly goals using the weekly template, and use the daily templates every day for a whole week. At the end of that week, reflect back on the whole week using steps A and L of the weekly template.
  3. Leverage this personal experience to reflect on the ways this process has helped you (or not) be more productive and feel more balanced that week. If it has, then you will have great insight to share with students as to why you want them to engage in this strategy. Getting them to buy into the "why" will be critical to help them establish this new routine and be invested in it. If this strategy didn't help you, then you might consider not using this strategy or modifying it to make it manageable for your students.
  4. Introduce the strategy to your students as well as the first backwards planning template to help them set up to three big goals and some potential actions to reach them. Leverage a time of year where they have just received quantitative or qualitative data that will help them set quality goals. Support them in writing quality objectives by reviewing the SMART framework with them.
  5. Start by using the GOAL weekly template first. Have students write their gratitudes and objectives on a Monday. Organize stop-and-chats or turn-and-talks after these two steps to give them a chance to share gratitudes with other members of the community and objectives with an accountability partner you designate or that they choose. You can also facilitate these share-outs with a digital tool like Padlet.
  6. Let the week go by, and on Friday organize a second activity during which students reflect back on the week and complete steps A and L in the weekly template. Then, have your students  celebrate their wins for the week related to their goals and reflect on lessons learned and mistakes made. Have students start thinking about next week's goals. Repeat steps 4-5 every week for two weeks as your first experiments.
  7. If possible, track students' objectives (O) on a weekly basis. A simple way to do this will be to create a quick Google Form in which they can write their objectives for the week. This will give you the ability to get a full picture of what they are working on and to create opportunities during the week for 1:1 check-ins, feedback, or celebration of effort and progress. It will make a big difference for them to see that you are paying attention to the process as much as the product.
  8. After two weeks, analyze the impact you see on students' productivity and well-being. Track in their objectives of the week spreadsheet students who actually reach their goals. Collect some feedback from your students via a Google Form to get a sense of how much this routine is helping them.
  9. If you see an impact, even moderate, and you would like to increase it, consider moving to a daily routine using the third template. Assess if having students state their objectives daily to themselves and to their accountability partner helps them better achieve their goals. Collect some feedback again from your students via a Google Form to get a sense of how much this change in the routine is helping them.


Post-It Note Goal Setting

Post-It Note Goal Setting allows students to create personalized goals that are visible to themselves, their peers, and the teacher. This strategy can be implemented daily, weekly, monthly, per assignment, per unit, etc. Post-It Note Goal Setting helps students identify areas of growth and create individualized goals which allows students to monitor their progress and strive for improvement and growth. It also allows others in the classroom see each student's goals in order to provide support or recognize achievements.

Implementation steps:

  1. Model for students how to write personalized goals around the learning target, work completion, outcome, or state standards being covered in class. This can be very open-ended, where students have a lot of choice in their goals, or streamlined towards a specific topic or activity. Be sure to discuss with students how to set reasonable, realistic goals for their individual needs and growth areas.
    • Examples:
      • I will score an 80% or higher on the unit assessment.
      • I will complete my homework every night this week.
      • I will ask a peer for help when I am stuck on a problem.
  2. Have students write a personalized goal on a post-it note. The teacher can choose whether students write their names on the post-it or not. Have the students attach their post-it goals to the whiteboard or a designated space in the room to make the goals visible.
  3. Refer to the student goals throughout the day, week, or assignment (whichever is applicable).
    • Optional: Have students revisit and revise their goals throughout the day, week, or assignment, based on their self-monitoring of their growth.
  4. Once the day, week, or assignment is complete, have students re-visit and reflect on their goals. This can be done through a class discussion or a reflection questions template with the following sentence starters that students complete.
    • Reflection Sentence Starters include:
      • I hope to improve...
      • I'm proud of...
      • I struggled to reach my goal because...
      • I was able to reach my goal by...
  5. Consider keeping students' goals in a file or on a tech tool such as Seesaw or Padlet (see the Tech Tools section below) so students can reference them and see their growth throughout the year.

Daily Goal Planning and Reflection

Daily Goal Planning is a tool to help students make their own individual goals and track their progress on a daily basis. Students can set daily goals based on the teacher's learning targets or based on their individual learning targets in a self-paced classroom. Teachers should model for students how to set achievable and actionable daily goals before having students set goals on their own. Teachers and students should reflect on their daily goals at the end of the lesson in order to set next steps. Daily Goals can be used as a way to differentiate goals for students and to help students not feel overwhelmed by tasks. Daily Goals can also be be shared with families in order to keep them aware of student progress.

Implementation steps:

  1. Engage in pre-planning by looking at daily learning targets in a one-week block. Review daily goals or learning targets for each day in order to align with student goals.
  2. Develop a goal planning template (see example resource below) for students to use, leaving spaces for your signature and for your students' signatures as a way to build rapport and accountability.
  3. Present learning targets/daily goals to students and allow them time to create their daily goals. To learn more about how to teach your students to set goals, refer to the SMART Goals strategy above.
    • Limit the number of daily tasks or daily goals the students can aim for. Four is a good number that can keep students focused without overwhelming them.
    • Create the goal planning on paper. Leave spaces for your signature and for your students' signatures as a way to build rapport and accountability.
    • Consider developing a goal setting anchor chart for students to examine (see example in resource section below).
  4. Allow students the opportunity to share/review their goals with classmates and revise as needed.
  5. Share with students how they can demonstrate mastery of their goal by showing evidence (see example of student evidence below).
  6. Create a schedule to have a 1-1 check-in with students. Use this opportunity to help students develop and reflect on their daily goals. 

Weekly Goal Setting and Reflection

Weekly goal setting and reflection allows students to take ownership of their learning by mapping out what they want to work on and accomplish each week in the classroom. By utilizing the weekly goal setting and reflection strategy, students are able to plan their work timeline and objective goals at the beginning of each week and then reflect on their achievements, areas of growth, and completion timelines at the end of each week. For the teacher, weekly goal setting provides opportunities for 1:1 conferencing with students regarding their goals, progress, and growth areas.

Implementation steps:

  1. When introducing weekly goal setting to students, it's important to model how to write a goal that is realistic and specific to the week. After writing a goal, the writer should also write out the steps he or she will take to complete the goal. Consider posting your own weekly goals on the board, so students can reference the goal setting. Student goals can be centered around various ideas (chosen by you or the students) including but not limited to: goals for task completion, goals for certain achievement grades/scores on an assessment, goals for behavior, goals for collaboration or communication, goals for class participation, goals for homework completion, etc. To support students in successful goal writing, you could give the students sentence starters or a template to fill out. Possible ideas include:
    • "This week, I would like to complete _______ by the end of the week. The steps I will need to take to accomplish this goal are: _______."
    • "By the end of this week, I would like to score a _______ on the _______. The steps I will need to take to accomplish this goal are: _______."
    • "This week my goal is to _______. The steps I will need to take to accomplish this goal are: _______."
  2. Create a collection or storage method and implement the routine with students.
    • Students could turn in their weekly goal at the end of class every Monday.
    • Students could complete their weekly goal in their journal or composition notebook.
    • Students could complete a weekly goal setting activity using a tech tool, such as Google Forms
    • Students could complete a weekly goal and post it on a visible tracker or board in the classroom.
  3. At the end of each week, provide students with the opportunity to look at their goal for the week and reflect on what they accomplished. To support students in successful reflection, you could give them sentence starters or a template to fill out. Possible ideas include:
    • "This week, I was successful in _______. I was/wasn’t able to accomplish my goal because _______."
    • "This week, I worked towards my goal but got stuck _______. I was wondering about _______."
    • "This week, I feel really good about _______. If I could do something over from this week it would be _______."
  4. Create a collection or storage method for the reflection and implement the routine with students.
    • Students could have space at the bottom of their weekly goal-setting sheet for reflection at the end of the week. They could then turn in their finalized goal and reflection at the end of each week.
    • Students could complete their weekly reflection in their journal or composition notebook.
    • Students could complete a weekly reflection activity using a tech tool, such as Google Forms.
    • Students could complete a weekly reflection and post it on a visible tracker or board in the classroom.
  5. Review and respond to student goals and reflections as often as possible. This could be done with students individually through conferencing, through a hand-written note on their reflection document, in small groups, or as a whole-class discussion. It’s important that students feel the value of this activity and feel like their goals and reflections matter.


Special Education Modification

Students who struggle with organizational processing might benefit from receiving a list of realistic possible goals that they could pursue. These goals could be related to the learning targets for a particular unit.

Tech Tools

Google Docs

  • Google Docs is an online word processor (part of Google Apps) that allows you to store, create, and edit documents collaboratively in a web browser.

  • Teachers can create a SMART goal template through Google Docs to share with students. Students can create their SMART goals and then collaborate virtually with the teacher or their peers regarding their SMART goals. Teachers can provide feedback through the commenting options with Google Docs.


  • Databox is a tool that allows the user to set and track SMART goals automatically. The user can also assign time limits to goals and track progress towards goal completion.


  • Padlet is a digital corkboard type tool that students can use to gather information or reflections. Teachers can easily access each students' Padlet with a shared link.

  • Padlet supports this strategy by providing a digital platform for students to post their goals on a digital "whiteboard/corkboard." Students can also comment on each others goals.


  • Seesaw is a virtual portfolio in which students can upload their work (videos or documents) in order to demonstrate their progress. The students can comment on their work and these portfolios can be shared with parents

  • As students build their seesaw portfolios, they can also take photos of their post-it note goals and comment regularly on seesaw about whether they are meeting those goals, and display evidence (student work or videos) demonstrating how they are meeting those goals

Google Forms

  • Google Forms allows you to capture quickly all objectives set by students and all their reflections in one spreadsheet that you can leverage to monitor their progress

  • It can also allow you to collect feedback from your students on the impact GOAL has had on them


  • The WOOP app guides you through the four steps of WOOP (Wish, outcome, Obstacle, Plan) and allows you to save as many WOOPs as you like.

  • Teachers and students who want to create WOOPs on their own may benefit from using the WOOP App to do so from their phones or tablets.