SMART Goals for Social-Emotional Learning

By Barbara Gruener

SMART Goals for Social-Emotional LearningBecause goals know no calendar, goal setting is one of those things that can be done around the clock, at any time of the year. The start of a new year and the beginning of a new semester in school, however, can be a particularly smart time to partake in the process of crafting and setting new campus-improvement goals. But how do you turn those thoughts of grandeur into something actionable? Consider transforming your average goals into SMART goals.

This goal-setting framework dates back to 1981, so chances are you’ve seen it and possibly even used it with success already. To refresh, the SMART acrostic stands for:

Specific: What do I want to accomplish? Who is involved? Where will it happen? How? Are there any limitations or hurdles I need to consider?

Measurable: How will I know that I’ve accomplished my goal? What data (or anecdotal indicators) will I use to measure success?

Attainable: How realistic is this goal? Will achieving it be well within my control?

Relevant: Is this a worthwhile goal? Is this the right time to go after it? Does it align with our school’s core values, vision, and mission?

Time-Bound: What is my target time frame and deadline for achieving my goal? By day’s end? Week’s end? In a month? Six months? A year?

Setting SMART goals helps us go from just wishing for something, thinking about it, and hoping it’ll happen to seeing that goal through from start to finish. So how might a SMART goal look in social-emotional learning (SEL) and character development?

Let’s start with a short-term relationships goal: By the end of the lesson, all students will understand and be able to articulate and implement strategies for upstanding in a bullying situation.

Is it specific? This goal addresses what we plan to accomplish in our lesson.

Is it measurable? We can use a tool like Kahoot! to measure whether we’ve achieved our goal that all students know and can articulate the strategies. We can role-play to make sure students have the skills they need to implement upstanding.

Is it attainable? It ought to be within reach to involve all students by teaching the strategies and skills to the whole group then breaking into small groups to practice through role play and reflection.

Is it relevant? This goal is relevant to students because educating and equipping bystanders can elevate empathy and decrease bullying. It aligns with our vision that our school be a bully-free zone.

Is it time-bound? By the end of the lesson puts a time frame on the goal.

Next, let’s look at a character goal designed to give kindness wings: Students will carry out 500 intentional acts of kindness during the 2018 Great Kindness Challenge.

Is it specific? Yes, though you may have to teach and/or model the kind of kindness you’re anticipating.

Is it measurable? Create a checklist to make it easier for students to document acts of kindness. Encourage leaders in a Kindness Club or Student Council to tally and share the results.

Is it attainable? With a school population of 500, that’s only one intentional act of kindness per student—a reasonably attainable rate. If you reach your goal before the week is out, by all means set a higher end goal.

Is it relevant? Since caring is one of our core values, a kindness campaign does align with our mission and is relevant.

Is it time-bound? The Great Kindness Challenge is celebrated every year during the last week of January, giving this goal a start and an end date and making it time sensitive.

Here’s a goal to help connect a class socially and emotionally: Every day for one month, students will engage in a 10-minute classroom circle time meeting.

Is it specific? We will intentionally set aside 10 minutes each day. To make it more specific, we might add what time of the day we want to schedule this circle time.

Is it measurable? We can keep track on a calendar as the meetings happen. Note: If the meetings are set to reach a specific goal related to classroom climate or culture, their effectiveness can be measured through a climate survey, through discipline referral data, or by comparing pre- and post-absenteeism reports.

Is it attainable? Yes, we ought to be able to devote 10 minutes each day to connect as a class.

Is it relevant? It’s important to students’ well-being that they know they matter to one another and that they have time to share what’s in their hearts before getting to the business of academic content.

Is it time-bound? There is a designated one-month time frame, after which you can decide if there is benefit in this circle time ritual.

Finally, consider this long-term self-regulation character goal: Students will be able to self-regulate through appropriate grade-level tasks by the end of the year so we can host a Silent Day during which the teacher won’t talk at all and students will run the class.

Is it specific? Yes. This goal asks for students to self-regulate through the whole day by understanding, embracing, and doing the right thing without adult guidance or voice.

Is it measurable? Yes. The teacher must document as certain skills, habits, and routines are established and mastered. With enough front-loading and evidence, the true measure will be if and when a Silent Day happens.

Is it attainable? Illinois teacher and author Paul Solarz of Learn Like a Pirate says yes, Silent Day is attainable. His fifth-grade students enjoy the success of self-regulating enough to be in charge every year on a day in May—a day they consistently name as their favorite of the year.

Is it relevant? As it’s a school goal to create self-reliant learners, this goal does align with our core values and is relevant.

Is it time-bound? This long-term goal will need benchmarks along the way and will culminate at the end of the school year with a day in which the teacher is silent and students lead.

Now it’s your turn to turn an ordinary wish into an extraordinary practice. Say you really want to start restorative practices in your character building; how might you transform that desire into an actionable SMART goal?

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 34th year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Restore the Peace: Implementing Restorative Justice in Schools

By Beth Baker, M.S.Ed., coauthor of The PBIS Team Handbook: Setting Expectations and Building Positive Behavior

Restore the Peace: Implementing Restorative Justice in SchoolsRestorative justice gained acceptance in schools as a response to the ineffectiveness of the zero tolerance policies districts often had in place when students brought weapons to schools. Students were expelled, no questions asked, and the “why” of the behavior was never explored. With the advent of the positive behavioral intervention and supports (PBIS) framework in schools, many districts began looking for other ways to help students and staff cope with challenging behaviors in the classroom. Restorative justice, which includes peace circles, was a practice that many districts used to replace traditional, punitive forms of discipline.

The Peace Circle
Peace circles are a proactive way to address situations before they become problems as well as a good way to address incidents after they occur. The peace circle consists of the person who felt harmed, the person who was the offender (sometimes these people seem interchangeable), and community members. A trained facilitator keeps the circle focused on the topic and summarizes the conversation. The facilitator may want to speak with the victim and the offender before the circle to determine the heart of the issue and concern. These conversations can help guide the questions used in the circle.

There are three basic questions that should be addressed in a peace circle:

  1. Who has been hurt?
  2. What are this person’s needs?
  3. Who is obligated to address the needs and help restore relationships and community?

Trained community members (usually students and staff) can help the students with problem-solving, making amends, and restoring peace to the community.

Restorative Justice in Action
I recall an incident that involved two students who had gotten into a fight. Parents were called, and the school offered a peace circle in lieu of the usual suspension. However, if students couldn’t keep their agreement, the school would suspend the offending student for three days. The parents agreed, and a peace circle was called. As facilitator, I asked a series of questions to help both of the students involved tell their side of the story. It is amazing how often a fight or argument is because of a misunderstanding or miscommunication. We had trained students participate as community members. They told how this incident had affected them (disrupted the classroom, made the hallway feel unsafe).

Everything was put on the table—the victim was able to identify how he felt during and after the fight, and the offender was able to say why he had wanted to fight. The initial misunderstanding was cleared up. The next step was for the community members to determine the apology of action (we did not let kids get off with a shoulder shrug and a “sorry” as an apology). Choices included:

  • Weekly meetings with the social worker to learn calming strategies
  • Performing community service around the school
  • An apology, either written or verbal
  • Restitution
  • An act of kindness or generosity performed outside of school

In this situation, the community of students decided that the two students would have weekly meetings with the social worker as well as apologizing to each other. This approach decreased the potential for long-term arguments, power plays, and more fights between the students.

Training and Resources
Peace circles, when done with integrity and purpose, value students and increase feelings of safety. School personnel can use them to help address the underlying cause of a behavior incident rather than just doling out suspensions. Students often leave circle with a sense of responsibility (to be better in their school community), restored relationships (with other members of the community), and respect (both for the community and for themselves).

It should be noted that schools must invest in training for staff before implementing restorative justice and peace circles, and training should be with a reputable organization. I received training through the Minnesota Department of Education and another organization in my area. Proper training is vital to the success of restorative practices. You are asking students to share their deepest feelings and their hurts. You are asking students to honor the confidentiality of the circle. And you are determining consequences for, sometimes, serious offenses.

To learn more about implementing restorative practices in your classroom, I suggest checking out the Center for Restorative Process and the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice.

Beth Baker, FSP AuthorBeth Baker, M.S.Ed., is an independent behavioral consultant and intervention specialist at Minneapolis Public Schools, where she works to create positive behavioral environments for elementary students. She was formerly the lead PBIS coach for a school district in the Minneapolis metropolitan area as well as a special educator working with students who have emotional behavioral disability (EBD) needs. Beth is currently on a two-year leave of absence while she is teaching and living in Caracas, Venezuela.

PBIS Team Handbook from Free Spirit PublishingBeth Baker is the coauthor with Char Ryan of The PBIS Team Handbook: Setting Expectations and Building Positive Behavior.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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#MeToo: Helping Students Understand Sexual Assault

By Liz Bergren

#MeToo: Helping Students Understand Sexual AssaultThe recent #metoo conversations and the increasing number of sexual assault allegations in the media bring attention to the questions of where and how we are teaching about topics like respect and consent in the classroom. These topics have been well-covered on all types of media for months, and it is important as parents and educators to be aware that news like this affects our children. It is our responsibility to make a conscious effort to help students sift through the information they hear.

One of the most important topics to discuss in the classroom and at home is consent. An understanding of consent can be the biggest stepping stone toward preventing sexual assault. Starting as early as possible, help children understand body autonomy. Many children are not given direct instruction on appropriate touch and body autonomy at home, so educators should work that into their instruction.

Many young children love to hug and hold hands. Teach them to ask permission before they hug someone or hold hands with the person. Tickling can be brought up in a discussion about touch. Some kids like to be tickled, and some like to tickle. Grown-ups tickle their children and it can be funny and fun, but sometimes tickling can go on too long to where it becomes uncomfortable or even painful. Teaching children to say “no” or “stop” when someone tickles them is a good foundation for empowering them to protect their bodies from unwanted touch. It is also important never to force your child to hug or kiss people if they don’t want to. If you are working with your young child to establish a relationship with a loved one, suggest giving a high five or hand shake if the child is uncomfortable with kissing or hugging the person.

For older elementary-age children, teach them to trust their own intuition when it comes to uncomfortable situations regarding their bodies. If they don’t want to be touched, or if they have an unexplained feeling about a situation or person, teach them to trust that inner voice and say “no” or get away. It may be helpful to discuss (at home or as a class) what a “gut feeling” is and how to listen to it. Some good examples might be if a friend puts an arm around them when it is unsolicited or if someone starts to massage their shoulders unexpectedly. Help kids understand personal boundaries and that it’s okay to say “no” or tell someone not to touch them. Role playing can help reinforce this concept. After you’ve discussed scenarios, have students create a script and work together to act out the situation. Have someone listen to his or her gut and communicate personal boundaries.

For tweens and teens, the topic of sexual assault is often taught in a sex education course. For students this age, dating can be a big priority. When I was a health education teacher, I would incorporate education on sexual assault into a unit on healthy dating and relationships. According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), 93 percent of juvenile victims of sexual violence knew their perpetrator. We must equip our students with the skills necessary to recognize signs of an abuser and empower them to leave those relationships. Teaching students to pay attention to red flags of abuse in a potential partner and helping them understand consent can be lifesaving.

Again, role playing is a good strategy to help teens understand what consent is and what it is not, and can provide practical application to real-life situations. Know It, Own It, a global campaign for comprehensive sexuality education launched in 2016, has two well-designed lesson plans on consent using role play. It offers examples of scenarios to use for two different age groups. I have also developed my own scenarios for role play by using student examples. You can poll your students and have them share situations that they have heard in the hallways, things they’ve read about, or perhaps situations they have been involved in. By polling students, you get a sense of what is really going on in their lives, which can help guide your instruction and make the lesson more applicable to them.

Another way to teach about consent and initiate a discussion is by watching this video produced in 2015 by the Thames Valley Police in Britain. It explains sexual consent by using the analogy of offering someone a cup of tea. This is an excellent and very simple approach to help your students understand consent.

Many resources are available to help teach these concepts and start discussions around uncomfortable topics. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) just compiled a guide for teaching young people about sexual assault, harassment, and consent called the #TeachThem Toolkit. The New York Times’s Learning Network created lesson activities for an article called “The ‘Click’ Moment: How the Weinstein Scandal Unleashed a Tsunami.”

It is important to remember—and tell young people—that victims of sexual assault are of all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, orientations, socioeconomic statuses, etc. No one “looks” like a victim, and no one “looks” like a perpetrator. Whether you’re an educator or a parent, teach students self-esteem, encourage a powerful sense of worthiness and purpose, and help kids develop strong communication skills and a solid support system.

How is sexual assault addressed in your school or home?

Liz BergrenLiz Bergren is Free Spirit’s education resource specialist. She is a former teacher with fifteen years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, she spent five years working for Park Nicollet’s Melrose Institute where she counseled and taught classes to patients who struggled with eating disorders. She has a B.A. in health and secondary education from the University of St. Thomas and an M.Ed. in family education from the University of Minnesota.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

Suggested Resources
Questions and Quotes for Girls In a Jar®

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Enter to Win a Book Bundle for School Principals!

January 2018 Giveaway NewThis month, we’re giving away three books that help principals and administrators build and lead successful schools:

To Enter: Leave a comment below describing how you help your school community thrive.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, January 19, 2018.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around January 22, 2018, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a US resident, 18 years of age or older.

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Social Stories: An Individualized Learning Tool

By Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., author of the Learning to Get Along® series. This post was originally published April 4, 2013.

Social Stories: An Individualized Learning ToolA friend once asked me for advice regarding her two-year-old child. She was concerned about her daughter’s biting and tantrums, so I offered to help her write a social story for her daughter. Social stories are useful behavioral tools for teachers, counselors, and parents when working with any young child, and they have particular benefits for children who struggle with communication and social skills.

True social stories—as defined and developed by Carol Gray, an author and consultant to students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD)—must include specific clinical criteria. But the stories themselves are short and simply worded, and your own stories can be patterned after these principles. Basically, a social story explains to a child behaviors or skills that can be useful in a social setting. Desired actions and outcomes are laid out in a logical step-by-step process. Through frequent readings of the story, a child can become more prepared for similar social interactions, routines, and situations.

To begin, you will want to observe the current behavior of the child, considering the factors that may be influencing the behavior. Young children are often limited in their ability to communicate, express emotions, and understand social expectations, and may not acquire new behavioral skills spontaneously. That is why a clearly written social story that is easy for a young child to comprehend can be such a useful tool in learning about social expectations.

One of the first tips I gave my friend was to write her story from her child’s perspective—in the first person. This is an essential element of a good social story. By hearing the word I, a child can easily identify with, remember, and retain the instructional phrases.

A good introduction will start at the child’s current developmental level. Lay out the beginning situation or problem. My friend’s story might have started: “Sometimes I play with other children. If I don’t get my way, I may feel angry.”

In the body of the story, write almost every sentence as a positive, affirming statement. Some people suggest that you first discuss the undesired behavior, and then the desired behavior afterward. It is my preference to avoid writing about negative behavior altogether. In my mind, it can give the undesired behavior too much attention. My rule of thumb is to use only positive statements unless the problem behavior can hurt someone or damage property. My friend’s story was one of those times, so we may have included a directive like, “I won’t bite or hit people.” We could then follow up with a simple explanation, such as, “Those things hurt. They won’t solve my problem.”

Throughout the rest of your little book, you will want to give instruction on the target skill. My friend’s story could talk about ways to calm down and feel in control again. The length and level of detail in your story will depend primarily on the child’s comprehension level, but always strive for an organized, succinct telling. Four types of sentences will typically be used in any social story:

  • Descriptive statements objectively describe the setting or situation. My books in the Learning to Get Along series—which use many concepts of the social story—actually incorporate few descriptive statements. I prefer brevity, relying on good illustrations to fill out the setting. You will typically want to have one statement and illustration for each page. An example from my friend’s story could be, “Sometimes I play with other children.”
  • Perspective statements include the feelings, thoughts, and opinions of the people in the story, such as, “I may feel angry.”
  • Directive statements are instructional. These statements are really the reason for the story. They tell the child what the desired behavior looks like. For example, “I can take deep breaths to help me calm down.”
  • Affirmative statements might reinforce things the child is already doing well, or they might encourage the child to try a new behavior. A child will identify with and be receptive to a story that is upbeat and empowering. End your story with an affirmation, such as, “When I talk about my problem, I may feel better.”

As mentioned earlier, it is recommended that your text be enriched with colorful, engaging illustrations that will add life to your script and make comprehension easier. Because young children are concrete thinkers, illustrations can help explain and solidify the message, as well as increase retention. When I write a handmade, individualized story, I like to use pictures from children’s magazines and workbooks, along with hand drawings. You might also use clip art that you find online. Each of the four statement types above can be enhanced with illustrations. Visual cues can help describe the setting; show the perspective and emotions of the characters through facial and body expressions; help directives appear more realistic and desirable; and affirm and reinforce the message.

Once the story is written, the fun part is to present it to the child. Plan to read the personalized story to the child in a calm setting. Reread it frequently—even daily, at first, to help the child become familiar with the concepts. Then the story can be used as a reference when a problem situation arises.

One of the central features of a social story is that it is tailored for a particular child. While my Learning to Get Along books are for general use and don’t use specifics like a child’s name, your own story can include specific names, pictures, and personal touches that the child recognizes. For instance, for a handmade social story I wrote on “Friends and Strangers,” I collected random pictures of people from magazines as well as photographs of the child’s family and friends to illustrate the book and to use for a sorting activity afterward. In another instance, I personalized a story called “Everything in Its Place” by cutting out pictures of toys, clothes, and items that the child owned. The book pages had drawers, boxes, and doors that opened to hold the items to be put away.

Be creative and have fun writing your stories. Your child will likely treasure a unique story and ask for it to be read again and again. Maybe that’s because a social story is not only a great learning tool, but it provides a unique opportunity to encourage, motivate, bond, and build trust with the children in your life.

Cheri MeinersCheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. Cheri and her husband David have six children and enjoy the company of their lively grandchildren. They live in Laurel, Maryland.

Free Spirit book series by Cheri Meiners:



Learning About Me and You

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