Abbotts College, Advice Column, Education


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The importance of school students setting realistic goals should not be underestimated. If your child has not yet set goals for the year, now is the time to do so without delay!

Without clear goals we do not have anything tangible that we are working towards, we are just floating along without any real direction. Few people experience success, or the realisation of their dreams, by accident.

I am sure many of us can recall the experience of having to set goals at the start of a school year when we were younger. How many of us just wrote a few goals down to appease teachers and parents, never to look at or think of them again? For most, this was a pointless exercise, often drawn from the realm of fantasy as we did not consider where we had ended academically, culturally or on the sports field the year before, or the amount of effort we put into our academics, sports or cultural activities. 

Some may have set a goal to play First Team Soccer, Rugby, Netball or Hockey, but were in the D Team the year before, all while training as hard as we could. Not a very realistic goal and one that is sure to set one up for disappointment and failure.

Our first assessment task for Life Orientation at Abbotts College PTA East this year, from Grade 8 to 12, was a reflection and goalsetting task. As I am fully aware of the way many people view goal setting exercises, my second assembly of the year spoke to the importance of goal setting and offered students clear guidelines on how they can set realistic goals. It is my hope that many of our students chose to spend time reflecting on their achievements, or lack thereof, last year and spent time setting meaningful, realistic goals for themselves, which they revisit regularly.

Goals are vitally important as they guide our choices and our actions as we move forward through life. A clear career goal, for example pursuing a career where a degree in Computer Science is a prerequisite, will guide a student’s subject choices in Grade 9 and will spur the student on to work hard to achieve the marks and AP Score required for acceptance to the course.

Often it is the students who are unsure of what they would like to pursue as a career in (what seems to them) the distant future, who do not set academic goals for themselves when at school and do the bare minimum as their future is unclear. 

It is normal for students not to have a clue as to what career they wish to pursue, but they must not let this discourage them from setting clear academic goals for themselves. They need to focus on achieving academic success so that they have as many tertiary educational doors open to them as possible, for when they do decide what career and tertiary studies they wish to pursue. 

Here are a few tips for realistic goal setting for those of you who have set goals at the start of the year, but have not considered them again, and those of you who have not set goals for yourselves in a while:

  1. Set clear goals. The less ambiguous, the more likely you are to work towards achieving them, e.g. I want to improve my Life Sciences mark by at least 7% next term, from 68% to 75%. 
  2. Have a clear plan as to how you will set about achieving your goals, e.g. I will ask questions in class when I do not understand, I will do all my homework and I will make study notes and revise my work once a week.
  3. Ensure your goals are realistic, yet challenging. This requires reflection and honesty with yourself, e.g. if I put effort into my Life Sciences last term, doing all my homework, making study notes and revising my work regularly, then I should aim for a 5% improvement in my marks for the following term and I plan to put extra time into the subject. If I wanted to improve by 10% or more, I can attend extra lessons or get a tutor for one-on-one support. If I put very little effort into the subject, I can set a goal of improving by a minimum of 10%, planning to do all my homework, make study notes and revise my work once a week. Don’t make your goals too easy to achieve, it isn’t a real goal then and you are giving yourself permission to coast, going nowhere slowly. 
  4. Be committed to attaining your goals. Without commitment, you will lose focus and will not work towards achieving your goal. A goal without commitment is basically a New Year’s resolution, destined to fail.
  5. Make yourself accountable by sharing your goals with someone you trust, who is sure to check up on your progress. We tend to keep working towards achieving our goals when we have shared them with someone. 
  6. Lastly, you need to keep adjusting your goals lest you stagnate. It is dangerous to think you “have arrived”! This will prevent further growth and achievement. When you have achieved your goal, you need to adjust your goal to achieve even more. It may be shifting the goalposts, e.g. I now want to achieve 82% for Life Sciences, once I have achieved 75%. It may be setting new goals. What would I like to focus on and achieve next?

Happy Goal Setting!

Mignonne Gerli, Principal: Abbotts College Pretoria East

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