How to Use SMART(ER) Goals to Achieve Success at Your Program
SMART goals are often taught as a strategy to help students achieve academic goals, but the same structure lends itself to strategies for administrators to set their schools up for success. The SMART framework was introduced in the professional journal, Management Review, in 1981. Author George T. Doran created the acronym SMART which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable (Achievable), Realistic (Relevant), and Time-bound. The formula takes goal-setters beyond simply stating an objective: it requires them to refine and create a realistic plan of action. This blueprint can lead to higher success rates. Over the years, other management professionals added the letters “ER” to make the formula “SMARTER.” The additional letters stand for Evaluate and Revise.
SMART(ER) goals are often used by schools required to participate in standardized testing. Academic achievement rankings and percentiles become baseline points for teachers and administrators to define broad, grade-level-based goals for the new school year. Using standardized test scores from previous years, administrators and teachers outline areas of focus in the curriculum. Examples for how to incorporate this data-driven use of SMART(ER) goals can be found on many state education websites (see New Jersey’s example here). However, the SMART(ER) goal formula does not have to be relegated to standardized test objectives. It can be incorporated in other ways to help administrators reach school wide goals.
Another place to apply SMART(ER) goals is in your Anti-Bias, Anti-Racism (ABAR) initiatives. ABAR education is critical to cultivating equitable spaces where every person feels heard, seen, and respected. SMART(ER) goals can be created through the lens of ABAR to confirm that your actions are aligned with equity. Check out this “ABAR SMART(ER) Goals” worksheet.
Steps to SMART(ER)
The first step in setting a goal is specificity. If a goal is too vague, the actions needed to succeed will be unclear. For example, a school might want to set a goal to increase parent attendance at school functions. If your school holds many events, a goal to improve attendance at all school functions will be too broad. Narrowing the goal to a type of function, such as sports or fundraising, will make the goal more achievable and the data easier to interpret.
This point requires concrete criteria for measuring progress in a goal. In the example of parent attendance, the outcome measure is simple: a school wants a percentage increase from last year’s parent attendance number. At the same time, brainstorm which actions are measurable. For instance, email newsletters and blog posts track click rates (also called open rates). This data illustrates which communication channels and topics are resonating with school parents.
In this step of the SMART(ER) goals formula, review whether or not the goal is attainable. Perhaps the desired percentage increase is too high. In the example scenario, if a school serves children in all grades from Infant & Toddler to Secondary, the goal might become attainable if made grade-specific. Parents of young children might need less marketing of events than Secondary. By creating separate goals for each grade level, administrators can see what motivates parents at different stages.
This is another step where you review your goal’s parameters. Ask yourself if the steps needed to achieve the goal are realistic. In our example, if there isn’t enough administrative support to create new marketing campaigns, then perhaps the goal is not realistic. It takes time to create newsletters, electronic invitations, and flyers. This SMART(ER) step allows the goal-setter to refine or revise actions needed to reach the goal successfully.
Every goal needs a timeframe. Most administrators will find quarterly or yearly goals fit into the schedule of a school year. In our example, tracking parent events over an entire year will produce more data which can highlight successful marketing tactics. A year timeframe would allow for course-correction in the second half of the school year.
This is the step when administrators compare their goals to the actual results. It’s important to note whether or not all the actionable steps to achieve the goal were completed. In our example, if some events were not publicized it would have compromised the data: the results will not reflect whether or not consistent marketing increased parent attendance at school events.
Reviewing the successes and challenges at the end of a project allows goal-setters to revise plans for the next time around. In our example, if administrators realize some communications were never sent out, it’s necessary to add more time into the schedule for those tasks.
Montessori schools vary in size, program offerings, and funding sources. Depending on the needs of your school, the SMART(ER) goal framework can support administrators in planning objectives with a high chance of success. Specificity of the goal and how it can be measured throughout the process are most important in framing your SMART(ER) goals. Start with one or two SMART(ER) goals for the year and refine them in subsequent years. Remember, oftentimes goals are not achieved due to unrealistic planning. Use the SMART(ER) goal framework to create actionable and achievable goals that lead to success.
About the Author
V. Kulikow is a former Montessori teacher and youth services librarian. She currently works as a UX designer and enjoys content creation both with words and images. On weekends you can find her gardening, taking nature photos, and working on her garden design certification through the Native Plant Trust.
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The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.