It Will Take as Long as it Takes

How are you doing with the goals that your students set at the beginning of the school year?  Are they completed and are your students are working on new ones?  Are they still in progress and your students are faithfully plugging away to reach them?  Or are they simply posted on the wall, lingering there as reminders of the warm, sunny, hopeful days at the start of the school year that were filled with anticipation?

I talk to educators all the time that know and believe that helping students setting personal goals is key to developing student ownership and essential to driving purposeful, relevant learning.  Aspirationally, educators want this to become an essential routine so students know how to self discover, identify goals that are meaningful and then chart a path to accomplish this goal.  This is an essential life skill that will span far beyond the current school year.  However, many times these aspirational conversations are followed up with identification of the challenges that get in the way of this high leverage strategy actually becoming a reality.  

After much discussion and reflection, I have come to the conclusion that we are really lacking is a habit or routine that makes the high leverage strategy of goal setting possible.  Throughout my life I have heard many coaches say, “It takes 21 days to make a habit”.  So this sparked my curiosity in wondering if this could be the magic key to successful student goal setting.  To learn more, I recently read a blog that suggests that that idea of 21 days which was identified in the 1960s by Maxwell Maltz, is incorrect.  A research team at the University College London believe that it takes an average of 66 days to create a habit. You can read the blog here.   66 DAYS!  What this tells me is that we need solid routines and procedures in place that are easy and natural to do so they become an integral part of your day.  

When talking to educators about why there are challenges to setting goals and develop learning paths for students, the one thing that seems to be missing is concrete goals and sustainable routines that teachers set for themselves that will transfer and be adopted by students as their own.  As an educator, start by asking yourself:  What are your goals for students to self discover, set goals and design their learning path?  How are you naturally building the path to make your goal a reality?  How committed are you to the routines that will make the process an integral part of your day so it transfers to the students?

21 days, 66 days?  I do not know how long it will take.  I prefer to use the idea that “It will take as long as it takes.”  But we have to intentionally build in the routines to make the goal a reality.  


Here are a couple of steps for educators to get started:

  1. Identify and write down WHY student goal setting is important to your students now and in the future.
  2. Identify routines that you and the students will participate in daily to build muscle memory.  It is not about just setting goals.  It is about reviewing goals daily, identifying where you are with the goal and determining next steps to accomplish this goal.  This is a daily practice.
  3. Identify all of the obstacles that will attempt to get in the way of sustaining and being committed to these routines and proactively plan around these.
  4. Get other teachers to do this with you.  It is always easier and more fun when you have a team!
  5. Stay positive.  Creating new habits takes time and effort.  You can do it!
  6. Renew your commitment often.  Things will get in the way!  Figure out what challenge you need to overcome, plan for it, and try again.

It will take as long as it takes, but you have to not only start, you have to be committed!  What routine will you put into place to help create that habit of self discovery and goal setting to build student ownership in your classroom and school?

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