Future skills: Goal-setting and how to help your children achieve goals

"They are still children. Help them set a goal that they want to achieve."
"They are still children. Help them set a goal that they want to achieve."

More insights from our exciting series Future Skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where we learn how to help our children prepare for the future. 

Goal-setting, and the ability to follow through, are useful skills in a modern world filled with challenges and obstacles. To help our children become successful adults, we asked teachers how they instill healthy goal-setting habits in their students, and how parents can help. 

Thato Malele of Future Nation Schools explained to us how goal-setting is easy to facilitate in a school setting. “Activities where students are given time to set targets for themselves within the teaching space, communicates the importance of goal setting to their lives,” she says. 

“Goals are set for the immediate future, such as putting up lesson objectives and activities to be completed within the hour, and the real-life consequence of not finishing work might be added homework, having a ‘working’ break with the teacher.” 

Read more in our Future Skills series here

Goal-setting skills cannot merely be taught

"The learning and development of a child’s goal-setting skills cannot merely be taught in a PowerPoint presentation or class discussion,” says Ross Hill, executive head at Curro Foreshore, “but rather needs to have the child fully involved in the learning process, which requires adults having purposeful conversations and actively creating the right environment.” 

The experienced educator advises teachers and parents not to set too many goals, and to tailor the goals around your child, for instance an extra-mural or social goal such as auditioning for the school play or starting a new sport.

"Academic or performance goals should be based on effort and achievement such as obtaining an ‘A’ in their favourite subject," he explained to us. "I suggest moving away from comparative goals like coming first in the class. An example of an effort goal is doing an hour of art every weekend.” 

If the goal cannot be measured overtly, such as doing an hour of work, achieving a certain grade, or trying a new activity, then you need to reword the goal, he says. 

Ross encourages students to set one or two goals. "Remember, we are teaching skills, not implementing adult life skills," he says. "They are still children. Help them set a goal that they want to achieve. Set goals around areas of strength, such as academic goals in their favourite subjects, and not around areas that need improving.

"Make it fun," he adds. "Offer to spend some fun time with them as they achieve their goals, as well as during the process. Make it easy for them to recover from setbacks on the journey of achieving a goal." 

Examples of age-appropriate goals in primary school:

  • Social: Invite a child who has no friends at school to a play date. Or, join the chess team.
  • Performance: Achieve 80% (or 60%) all my Science tests.
  • Effort: Spend 30 minutes every evening practising soccer.

High school goals:

  • Social: Join two clubs and societies
  • Effort: Hand in all projects one day early. Or, spend 20 minutes doing Maths every evening.
  • Performance: Obtain 2 subject distinctions (or a different level) in exams.

Ross described a number of key elements that teachers could consider to make the learning of certain skills meaningful. "Learning needs to be ongoing, and real, and the language needs to be explicit. The teacher needs to develop the language around problem solving and keep referring back to the process explicitly."

Read more in our Future Skills series here

What can parents do to help?

"One of my great joys in being a parent is rediscovering how interesting the world is through my child’s eyes," Ross told us. "The most important way to encourage these characteristics is to participate in the child’s discovery and use the opportunity to model learning, and to be purposeful as you model this love of learning."

Perhaps most importantly, he told us, is that the skills learning process needs to be modelled, illustrating his point with the famous James Baldwin quote:

"The children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them."

Read more in our Future Skills series here

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