Set Goals

An introduction to the behavioural norm & outcomes of Set Goals.

Behavioural Norm > Set Goals


The ability to set clearly stated personal and professional goals is the basis for a fulfilled life. All too often students find themselves exiting their senior year with either an ill-defined set of goals or on a trajectory to fulfil someone else’s framework for their future.

As quoted by the National Center for Educational Statistics:

The 6-year graduation rate in 2014 was 60% for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year degree-granting institution in fall 2008. The 6-year graduation rate was highest for Asian students (71%) and lowest for Black & American Indian/Alaska Native students (41% each).

The commitment of time and money associated with this life choice is enormous, yet these dismal statistics reveal that the goal-setting process that led to attending college for many students was ineffective.


Why Goal-Setting?


Goal setting includes brainstorming, planning, and learning to make informed choices. Setting and achieving goals is a primary life experience.

Persistence is also a significant, learned attribute. As Sumner Redstone has said, “Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes, it’s built on catastrophe.”

While experiencing success is essential to maintaining motivation, experiencing failure and learning from it is also essential. The balance between success and failure provides students with critical learning experiences.

Goal setting should result in an honest assessment of what the student wants to achieve, how to get there, how to know when you’ve been successful, and what internal and external supports will be necessary. This last point holds great growth potential for it empowers the student to ask for help from others as a necessary step in goal achievement.

This has ramifications for working collaboratively in all future endeavours with family, friends, and in the employment setting. Specific to the work setting, the ability to engage in the cooperative development of a shared mission is at the forefront of employer desired 21st Century workplace readiness skills.

Goal setting provides opportunities for cooperation rather than competition. For if an agreed-upon goal is achieved our propensity for fairness is rewarded. Practising fairness spills into all areas of social-emotional learning promoting sharing, generosity, and self-sacrifice.

You can explore a further discussion about goal-setting, and why it’s an essential tool for group development here.


Set Goals Outcomes


Growth Oriented

Central to goal setting is that growth occurs from choosing an objective and fulfilling it. A goal that does not involve growth and change is not worthy of consideration.

Cooperation Versus Competition

The goal-setting process described in The Full Value School (Chapter 9) asks students to set personal and school-related goals that are theirs alone with support asked for and provided by classmates. As each goal is individually based the competitive process is eliminated. This is also the structure of all activities that are described in the book. It is always the group working collaboratively together, rather than competing against each other to reach a goal.

Intention into Action

Having the intention to change is an essential place to begin, but this has to be followed by action. Engaging in a deliberate goal setting plan and the work of achieving the goal demonstrates a willingness to define and commit to change.

Brainstorm and Plan

Brainstorming feeds the creative process. It liberates the student from having to determine a goal without true exploration. Planning tools in this text focus on content and process.


The outcome of this process is to achieve the desired goal. When a student does the hard work of defining a goal and working diligently to achieve it there is a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.


The expression ‘failing forward’ describes the upside of a student’s struggle with goal setting. If failure is reframed for students as an opportunity to learn rather than as a shameful experience, then failure just becomes part of the process. It may be that a student selected a goal that was unrealistic. A goal may seem desirable but then lose its lustre over time. The goal might be too vast and require smaller achievable sub-goals in order to get there. Words and phrases like change, rethinking, reconsideration, smaller steps, other resources, and a different goal are all asset-based and optimistic. This is how the experience of failure can be viewed as a growth-oriented tool. Finally, we all sometimes fail and rallying from that experience and moving forward is a key element in building resiliency. This is the ability to not internalize the failure to the point where it causes paralysis and self-doubt. If we did not experience failure, we would not know what achievement feels like. This is the balance of Full Value.

Accepting Help

We exist in a society that rewards independence, self-reliance, and autonomy. If pulling yourself up by your bootstraps was an effective approach we would not have the National Alliance Mental Health reporting that 20% of students ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition. This represents approximately 10 million students enrolled in public and private schools, grades 9-12 in the United States. The deliberate inclusion of asking for outside support to reach a goal begins to break down this maladaptive process for students. Practising supportive collaboration is essential.

Defining Clear Objectives

Defining relevant and measurable objectives can be difficult. With the tools provided for students in this text, it becomes easier. Teachers working with students, and students working with each other are essential to generating clear objectives. The defining of measurable objectives is built into all provided activities.


The successful completion of an individual or group goal is an empowering experience. Measurable success brings pride of accomplishment, increasing self-confidence, and an understanding that with sufficient planning it is possible to negotiate difficult terrain.


Mastering the ability to set goals and achievements, even when asking for help during activities in the classroom, builds a sense of independence. It offers students a window into the possibility of setting and achieving goals throughout their personal and professional lives.

Intelligent Risk Taking

Students, particularly adolescents, tend to become involved in risk-taking behaviours. Taking risks can be growth enabling or can be stupid, resulting in self-harm. Implicit in goal setting is that risk must be taken. For without risk, change is limited. A reading called The Parable of the Trapeze from The Essene Book of Days illustrates this and is a powerful metaphor for introducing goal setting to middle and high school students. You can read it below.


Explore Our Approach    Explore SMART Goal-Setting


Extracted & adapted from The Full Value School: A Social-Emotional Learning Community

Woman hanging from trapeze setting goals

The Parable of the Trapeze

Turning the Fear of Transformation into the Transformation of Fear


Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty, and I know, in that place that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart-of-hearts, I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well-known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my
previous hurtles across the void of unknowing, I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on the unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of, “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” It’s called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a ‘no thing,’ a no-place between places. Sure the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real too. But the void in between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting ‘nowhere’ that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honoured, even savoured. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, the transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to ‘hang out’ in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.

The Essene Book of Days

Free eBook:
Top Ten Icebreakers & Group Games

Download our free 28-page ebook jam-packed with outrageously fun activity ideas.