Have you ever made goals for New Year’s or another time of the year and failed to achieve them? How about the goals you have achieved? What was the difference between the two? I know for myself, the goals I have achieved were simply more meaningful to me. They were ones I wanted to achieve not because someone else thought I should achieve them, but because I personally wanted to for ME!
This doesn’t mean that I have achieved every goal I have had a strong desire to, but it does mean I was definitely more driven to at least making baby steps towards it. Therefore, improvement has been seen even for the meaningful goals I set that I did not fully achieve.
I want to transfer this thought to our children.
We have all set goals for our children when it comes to potty training and other milestones that maybe they weren’t sold on at first, but feel very accomplished as time goes on and they achieve more success. Some goals do need to be set for our children despite resistance. What happens though when the adults in our children’s lives are the only ones setting goals as they get older? What happens if the goals are not something the child cares to achieve at all?
Many children today with a diagnosis or academic and/or behavioral struggle of some kind have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) created for them in school. This document usually contains the diagnosis or reason for the plan, some background information, then some goals as well as accommodations in place at the school for your child. Eventually, goals will be marked as Achieved or Not Achieved with some type of blurb about the progress made or lack of it.
Depending on the school, these documents are sometimes created by just the teacher(s), other times parents are involved and occasionally children are involved. In general, these documents are to be updated each reporting period.
When children aren’t involved in the goal creation and/or they aren’t aware of the goals or reasons behind them, Individual Education Plans too often have goals that are meaningless to the children. In many cases, goals are set without the child even knowing that they exist. Later, they are marked as Not Achieved but this really shouldn’t be surprising since the child didn’t even know or care that these goals were to be worked on.
What can be done to help more children achieve their goals? It may sound crazy, but we can make sure the children are involved in some way!
Teachers and Individual Education Plan Creation
Shouldn’t the teachers do this? Shouldn’t they just sit down and meet with our children? Yes, they likely should and do for assessment as well as reading and other tasks, but I do want to put this in perspective from where some teachers who aren’t meeting with children for Individual Education Plan goal creation may be coming from.
I recently chatted with a high school teacher who had 105 students in one semester that was on an Individual Education Plan. He told me it took at least one hour per plan for him to add what he needed to in each plan.
I’ve seen elementary teachers with as many as half of their students on a plan. What this translates to is many teachers working on the creation of these individual education plans outside of school hours. After all, we want teachers to be teaching and providing the students in their classrooms with the time they need, right?
How Parents Can Help
This is where parents come in handy. 😉 If your child has an Individual Education Plan, don’t be afraid to arrange a ½ hour meeting with your child’s teacher. Take a sheet of paper with you containing the following information:
- Family: Who does the child live with? Are there siblings in the home? What other general information might be important for the school to know?
- Medical/Behavioral Information: Let the teacher know of any concerns with health or behavior as well as medications your child takes and dosage – Please be sure to keep the teacher updated when changes occur.
- Interests: What does your child enjoy doing? Does your child participate in activities or hobbies of any kind?
Note that the above will help the teacher be able to better connect to your child and is often information that the teacher needs to look up. You providing this will ensure information is up to date, meaning fewer revisions as well.
- Areas of Strength: What are your child’s areas of strength you and your child see? If a psycho-ed assessment was completed, include areas of strength listed in that report as well.
- Areas to Develop: Based on your child’s individual needs, and usually relating to the diagnosis if there is one, what are areas that your child needs to develop? If a psycho-ed assessment was completed, also include areas to develop that were highlighted in that report if they are still relevant.
Now use the areas to develop as a guide for the next section:
- What are 2-3 main goals that you AND your child would like to see your child strive towards achieving AT SCHOOL this year?
But children need WAY more than 2-3 goals, don’t they??? I had one student transfer in with 35 goals on her plan. When there are that many goals, it becomes difficult to focus on the child. Keep in mind that there are still goals in each of the classes, but what are 2-3 main goals that you and your child feel will be key to achieving success? As those goals are achieved, add new goals. This makes it manageable and memorable. We don’t set 35 goals for New Year’s… many times, we don’t even achieve the one goal we set. Let’s make things manageable for our children as well.
The goals should be meaningful to your child. Talk to your child beforehand. Feel free to take your child along for the meeting with the teacher.
- Are there realistic strategies that can be done at school which your child believes will work to help him/her achieve these goals? Is there any way that your child’s strengths can be integrated for achieving these goals? If so, make note of them as well.
- What accommodations does your child need in place in order to be successful?
Write the answers to the above sections down as it relates to your child before your meeting. The goals should have something to do with school goals and will need to be measurable and relevant to the reason your child has an Individual Education Plan.
Making Goals both Measurable and Achievable
Being general such as improve in reading may not be enough even though it can provide something for the teacher and your child to work from. Also, if your child is in grade 6 and is reading at a grade 1 reading level, obviously you would love for your child to read at grade level. However, this likely won’t happen in the course of a term. Maybe it is realistic for your child to improve and be reading at a grade 2 instructional level. This can go on the IEP. Yes, the overall goal is to read at grade level, but taking smaller steps to get there will allow for more success and more achieved goals, resulting in more celebrations of goals achieved and increased confidence for your child.
Let me give you an example of a common goal given for students with ASD. Often, a goal will be created that has something to do with the child working with others or working in groups. Almost equally as often, the goal is not achieved and is simply repeated year after year. Why? This student rarely cares to work in groups and doesn’t tend to thrive when working in them and THAT’S OKAY!!! It is highly likely that, if asked, the child never would have chosen this to be a goal!
Does this mean that working in groups should never be a goal? Not at all, but it may definitely impact how the goal would be written if the child were to be involved. If working in groups is highly valued within the classroom, then maybe the goal could have something to do with fully participating in a group ⅖ times or to perform a task for a group when asked ⅖ times. The latter likely would not require the student to suddenly become this extremely uncomfortable engaging extrovert. Instead, the student’s personal comfort level is honored and the student learns the importance of doing their share within a group when it is required and/or expected.
Goals require a desire to achieve them, the confidence to achieve them, a supportive environment, as well as the breaking of goals down in achievable steps and time frames.
Someone wanting to lose 60 pounds would not set that goal to be achieved in one month or even two months from today’s date. A goal to lose 5-10 pounds at a time, however, would be much more manageable and would allow for increased self-confidence and, therefore, increased likelihood of achieving the overall goal eventually.
I’m sure we can all think of goals that others could set for us that we would NOT achieve. It would be like someone setting a goal for me to race mountain bikes. I admire people that do it, but it simply isn’t something I have any desire to even attempt so I wouldn’t achieve the goal or even make steps toward achieving it no matter how it was written!
The other huge benefit of involving children in the creation of their goals is it helps children learn to advocate for their needs. I believe it also helps our children appreciate their strengths and look for ways to build on them when looking at ways to achieve their goals.
I would love to know how the Individual Education Plan is handled in your child’s school and whether or not you believe these tips would be useful. Feel free to fill out the contact form below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 🙂