Setting SMART Teaching Goals for Next School Year

by Andy Minshew


Summer can be a useful time to reflect on the previous school year and make a plan for changes or improvements you want to see next year. But determining where to start and what accomplishments you’d like to reach can be tough—especially if you’ve never set specific teaching goals.

In this article, we’ll explore how setting goals can shape your career for the better—and improve your connection with your students, too. Then, we’ll show you how to set SMART goals as positive and measurable targets for improvement.

Why Should You Set Specific Teaching Goals for the Year?

If you already have an idea of what you want to accomplish over the next school year, you may wonder why it matters whether you set a specific goal. But according to educational research, teachers who set goals for themselves see significant changes in their classroom, as well as in their self-perception.

Educators who make a goal to improve their teaching skills report a greater interest in their career as well as a more positive teacher self-image.[4] A survey of teachers who set goals for themselves also found that, by the end of the school year, they were more likely to feel that they had improved as a teacher.[8]

Setting goals can also boost your relationship with your students and their classroom performance. For example, when teachers set student-teacher relationship goals, their students were more likely to report viewing their teacher as a support and someone they were comfortable asking for help.[1,5] And when teachers set mastery-related goals, their students’ motivation improved significantly.[2]

Additionally, goal-setting can be especially crucial for teachers who are just beginning or early in their careers.[4] In these situations, the goals you set can help you define and shape what you want to achieve as a teacher. And at the end of each school year, you’ll also have a list of measurable accomplishments to remind yourself how you’re growing throughout your career.

Goal-setting is great for both your professional development and your students’ progress.. But deciding to set goals is only half the story. Equally important is learning how to set strong, measurable goals that will help you grow as an educator over the school year.

How to Set SMART and Effective Teacher Goals

When choosing goals for yourself, use the SMART goal framework to work on issues that matter the most to you and improve your likelihood of success. SMART goals are defined as those that meet the following criteria:[7]

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Here’s an example of a SMART goal for a teacher: suppose that you want to improve the quality and frequency of your classroom discussions. You could set a goal to have discussions every week (Specific, Achievable) for the rest of the school year (Time-bound, Measurable) on a subject your class is studying (Relevant). The SMART goal criteria are flexible enough that you can mold them to your specific interests as a teacher to make sure you’re hitting the areas where you most want to improve.

Additionally, teaching students how to make SMART goals is shown to effectively improve their academic progress and provide them with ways to measure their own success.[6] Once you’ve tried setting SMART goals for yourself, consider using them to help your students grow through the school year as well.

Keep in mind, however, that SMART goal-setting works best when used as a format rather than a strict set of rules.[9] You may need to adapt them in some ways to meet your own needs or those of your students. If you want to set a goal for yourself that will exceed this school year, for example, the way you define “time-bound” may need to be more flexible. But as long as you use the SMART acronym as your guide, you’re more likely to set effective goals that will help you improve.

Stuck Choosing a Teaching Goal? Here Are a Few Resources to Get You Started

Not sure where to start for setting your own SMART goals? A study conducted by Dr. Heather Camp at Minnesota State University found that teaching goals usually fall into one of four categories:[8]

  • Improving classroom organization
  • Making the most of class time
  • Raising student engagement
  • Strengthening student discussion

Because these are commonly reported as areas where teachers want to improve, they may give you a starting place for your own goals this year. For more ideas, check out this list of sample teaching goals put together by the Stanford University Teaching Commons. It includes ideas like inspiring students or mentoring young intellects. These might give you more suggestions for your own goals.

If none of these are areas you’d like to focus on, try reflecting on the previous school year. If you could have done one thing differently, what would it be? This might give you a helpful starting point for next year’s goals. And if all else fails, try discussing potential goals with a colleague or friend to nail down a plan for improvement.


  1. Butler, R. Striving to connect: Extending an achievement goal approach to teacher motivation to include relational goals for teaching. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(3), 2012, pp. 726–742.
  2. Schiefele, U., and Schaffner, E. Teacher interests, mastery goals, and self-efficacy as predictors of instructional practices and student motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, July 2015, 42, pp. 159-171.
  3. Mansfield, C.F., and Beltman, S. Teacher motivation from a goal content perspective: Beginning teachers’ goals for teaching. International Journal of Educational Research, 2014, 65, pp. 54-64.
  4. Paulick, I., Retelsdorf, J., and Möller, J. Motivation for choosing teacher education: Associations with teachers’ achievement goals and instructional practices. International Journal of Educational Research, 2013, 61, pp. 60-70.
  5. Butler, R., and Shibaz, L. Striving to connect and striving to learn: Influences of relational and mastery goals for teaching on teacher behaviors and student interest and help seeking. International Journal of Educational Research, 2014, 65, pp. 41-53.
  6. O’Neill, J. SMART Goals, SMART Schools. Educational Leadership, February 2000, 57(5), pp. 46-50.
  7. The University of California. SMART Goals: A How-To Guide. Retrieved from
  8. Camp, H. Goal Setting as Teacher Development Practice. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 2017, 29(1), pp. 61-72.
  9. Bjerke, M.B., & Renger, R. Being smart about writing SMART objectives. Evaluation and Program Planning, April 2017, 61, pp. 125-27.

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