Setting Ambitious and Realistic Goals

Youth set ambitious but realistic goals.

Setting goals that support social and emotional growth for both youth and staff members is necessary across all six domains. The specific goals youth set vary across programs. In effective SEL programs, however, staff work with youth to make sure the goals they set are challenging but achievable. Youth have experiences setting challenging but achievable short- and long-term goals.

Goal setting takes different forms. Sometimes goals are personal goals, other times they are project-specific goals. Staff should help youth learn to set goals that are attainable. This includes both short-term and long-term goals. Andrew Cintron, an alumnus of the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory (PWBF) who is now a Program Assistant, shared the importance of youth setting goals for what they will achieve and that are within reach for each program session. Trying to get too much carpentry done in one night, for example, only leads to frustration:

We don’t want to give the student so much on their plate that they feel as though their nightly goal is too much. We have to set the right amount of goal for them that night.

At AHA! Attitude, Harmony, Achievement (AHA!), staff work with youth to identify personal goals for self-change. Jennifer Freed, Co-Executive Director, described the process:

Some of the questions we ask in different ways throughout the semester are, “What do you need help with? What are the biggest things you’re having to overcome from your past? Where in your life right now do you feel like you’re off course and need support to get back on track?” We’ll ask a question like, “If there was one thing in your life you could really transform, what would it be—a habit, something you’re doing that you’re not proud of?” We say things like, “What’s the thing you have the hardest time talking about?”

In addition to this ongoing coaching, many of the programs have curriculum content around goal-setting. Wyman, for example, has training modules designed to teach youth to create SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time sensitive. Voyeur Outward Bound School (VOBS) uses a system of checklists to help youth define and stay on track towards goals.

Further Reading

Join the Discussion

How do you determine what goals are “realistic” for different participants? How do you balance that with lofty goals?