Making Goals

IMG_1037“Don’t write a book, write a page.” -Peter Bregman (Harvard Business School professor) (from The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor)

“What do you think this quotation means?” I asked my students. We’re going to do a 5-minute quick-write, and I’d like you to focus your first thoughts on this quotation. After that, you can move onto writing about whatever comes to the surface of your brain. Remember, the only rule for a quick-write is that your pencil doesn’t stop writing. You may begin.” They moved their pencils furiously. After a few minutes, I saw a boy stop to shake out his hand. We made eye contact, and he quickly resumed his writing. They know the drill. If your hand hurts during the quick-write, you can write “My hand hurts. My hand hurts,” but the writing doesn’t stop. It sounds strict, but I’ve found that most of the students really enjoy it. They like seeing what they can produce in a short period of time. Some even work better under that slight bit of pressure. Plus, I don’t grade them or require them to share. We’re just exercising our writing. When the time ran out, I let those who wanted to share their thoughts. I was pretty impressed by their ideas.


“I think it means don’t overdue something when you don’t need to. It will make you happier, and you do it little by little.”

“Maybe don’t focus on having the most. Just stay where you are.”

“I think it means you don’t have to write a lot to write what needs to be said.”

“I think it means don’t make things that are not important your first priority.”

“That means take your time and focus on one thing at a time. Then go to the next page.”

“I think it means to focus on one thing at a time and the present of time and not the future of things. Also not to plan your life but to plan one segment after another.”

“It means you don’t have to have everything right here, right now. You can take your time.”


Most of the students went on to write about pizza or chicken nuggets, but I thought those first thoughts were pretty impressive. I went on to explain that the quotation came from a book I just finished reading called The Happiness Advantage, in which Harvard psychologist, Shawn Achor, shows that happiness is usually a predecessor to success. And one way he suggests we can increase our happiness and link it to our success is by setting and meeting small manageable goals. I told the kids about the lady in the book who wanted to run a marathon. That was her goal, but she wasn’t even a runner. The author tried to dissuade her from her goal and encouraged her to start with something smaller and more manageable that would eventually lead her to the big goal, but she wouldn’t listen. And ultimately she gave up. This is what often happens to us when we make goals. We think we have to “go big or go home.” And when we can’t do it, we lose our confidence and give up on ourselves.

Our campus improvement plan this year involves having all students making goals, planning steps to achieve their goals, and tracking their progress. Not only do we know that students taking ownership of their learning is an important element of success, but making goals is a lifelong skill that will serve students in many areas of their lives.

Yet, as an adult, I know that writing goals is often difficult. And not achieving a goal leaves me with feelings of failure and disappointment (though, I know these moments are also opportunities for developing grit. See previous post). How do we help students articulate manageable goals? They need lots of modeling and direction. They need to know where they are and where they need to get to. They need teacher direction and guidance, and they need to know they will be supported along the way. Setting and meeting goals is a great way to build confidence, especially when students have internalized their past failures. Maybe they believe they’re just not good at writing and have essentially given up. My hope is that by making manageable goals, students will develop the belief that they can do anything, just by taking it one page at a time.

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