Achieving Goals with Self-Regulation

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Achieving Goals with Self-RegulationThe new year always brings a new round of resolutions. Some of us want to be more active, read more, lose weight, or learn to destress or declutter our lives. If you are like me, you may have fallen down on your resolutions now that it’s mid-February and slipped back into old habits.

In most cases, the reason people fail at their resolutions (or goals) is because of self-regulatory failure. Self-regulatory failure undermines our abilities to overcome barriers, develops a negative self-belief, and depletes our self-control. Cognitive neuroscience research suggests that those who are most successful in achieving goals are those who deliberately focus on a desired outcome, receive intermittent rewards along the way, and are supported by valued individuals or groups.* This is why Weight Watchers is so successful.

Self-regulation is a conscious management system that involves the process of guiding our feelings (affect), monitoring behaviors, and thinking efficiently (cognition) to achieve success. These three dimensions are called the ABCs of Self-Regulation for Learning. They make up a learned process that develops in four stages. Listed below are the stages, with ideas for assisting students in achieving worthy educational goals.

Stage 1: Modeling and Observing

Students need to watch others managing their ABCs. Teachers can overtly demonstrate how they monitor their affect, behavior, and cognition. At this stage, the teacher is the “sage on the stage,” providing direct instruction on the setting, managing, and adjusting of goals. Teachers can:

  • Establish a learning environment that makes all students feel confident to take intellectual and creative risks in achieving goals
  • Model how to set goals
  • Share with students what they do when they are feeling stressed when working toward a goal
  • Show students that making mistakes is a joyful part of the learning experience and provides opportunities to adjust the goal

Stage 2: Copy and Do

After students have been exposed to effective modeling, they can begin to copy the strategies. At this stage, the teacher facilitates goal attainment by being readily available when students need support. Now is the time for teachers to:

  • Provide opportunities for students to stretch intellectually and creatively
  • Offer graphic organizers to assist students in problem-solving
  • Give students supportive descriptive feedback toward reaching their goals
  • Allow time during the day for students to discuss and reflect on how they are progressing toward their goals

Stage 3: Practice and Refinement

As students feel more confident about themselves and their abilities to achieve, they should be allowed to practice and refine their strategies toward reaching a goal. At this stage, the teacher is the “guide on the side,” the coach. Teachers can:

  • Let students put into practice the learning behaviors they have acquired so far
  • Support students in deciding on graphic organizers that can be most beneficial in achieving a goal
  • Keep students focused on monitoring their goal achievement and provide suggestions for adjustments or changes to the goal
  • Encourage students to continually self-assess, seek out peer assistance, and reflect on their approach toward the goal

Stage 4: Application and Independence

After much hard work and practice, students are now ready to independently set, monitor, adjust, and assess goal attainment. At this stage, the teacher acts as a consultant to the student, making suggestions for adaptation or refinement of achievement toward individual goals. The student will:

  • Independently decide on a goal, checking with the teacher when necessary
  • Record a goal and create steps to achieve the goal
  • Identify barriers to achieving the goal and prepare themselves for the bumps in the road
  • Document their learning and goal attainment in the fashion that fits them best
  • Celebrate the learning process

In the classroom and beyond, self-regulation is what we use to control impulses and deal with uncertainty, and it motivates us to achieve worthy goals. The process of goal setting, monitoring, adjusting, and achievement is a lifelong skill. It is a learned process that must be directly taught and supported. It is our duty to prepare our students for the challenges ahead.

Bonus! Download a graphic organizer for creating goals for primary, intermediate, and secondary grades.

*Hofmann, W., Schmeichel, B. J., and Baddeley, A. D. “Executive Functions and Self-Regulation.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 16, no. 3 (2012): 174-180.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

Differentiation For Gifted Learners


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.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
This entry was posted in Teaching Strategies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply