Habits and strategies are more important than SMART goals.

I have been a Year 7 (Grade 6) tutor (advisor) for almost 7 years now, and every year I am asked to have my students set SMART goals for each term. Initially, I thought this sounded like a great idea; I even made a slide deck with cool icons from the Noun Project.

But over the years even my cool slide deck explanation has not really helped my students set and achieve many goals. I am sure that I need to own some of this as I can be a bit forgetful about checking in with students regularly about their progress, but I also think there is a problem with thinking that goal setting in itself is going to help students actually change their behaviour in any meaningful way. Or that the process of just tracking progress is somehow going to motivate them to change their behaviour in some way.

Enter my very intelligent wife, who pointed out to me the other day that what we should really be focusing on is habits and strategies, not the goals themselves. Now, I know that in a way habits and strategies are embedded in Achievable and Timely parts of the SMART acronym, but I was mulling this over while reading Gamify or be gamified by Doug Belshaw in which he mentions how effective the Loop Habit Tracker has been for helping him track and change his habits, and thought ‘I should try this’.

Long story short I downloaded the app and am feeling more on top of reaching my goals than I have in a long time. Actually, I am not really thinking about goals. I am thinking about what are small things that I am always telling myself I wish I could find the time to do, and how can I fit them into my life. In particular, how many times a week do I think I can do them, when will I do them, and what sort of intensity do I want. I am now three months into this experiment and, if anything, I am more motivated to keep on trying to fit micro habits into my daily routine. I have learned to give myself a break when it is just impossible to tick off everything on my list and to tweak a goal if it was originally too ambitious. I also find it ridiculously satisfying to see all the coloured checkmarks that show my success each week.

So now I am wondering how to transfer my success tracking habits to my students. Telling them all to install an app seems to be overkill. My current thinking is that maybe a Google Doc shared via Google Classroom would work. Especially if I use the new dropdown menu tool that has just been released to make it easy to indicate when you have completed a micro habit. Maybe something like this?

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