Personal Learning Plans: Goal Setting to Promote Growth and Reflection by Maura Kelly

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This post was originally published on the PLP Pathways blog and is used here with the permission of the author. 



The Growth and Reflection stage is perhaps the longest and most intense phase of the Personal Learning Framework. Once students have established their identity, they will move into Growth and Reflection. Here they will set goals, develop action steps, collect evidence of their learning, and reflect on the strengths and challenges that characterize their learning experience.

Setting Goals

As adults we are constantly setting goals, small little goals that arrive in the form of a daily checklist, to larger goals in all aspects of our life. We clearly understand the value of setting goals both in our personal life and in our professional life.  Take trying to save money for example, as an adult we understand that saving money every month does not just happen on a whim (but how we wish that it did). We know from our experience that we need to set a goal of the amount we would like to save over the course of the year that is reasonable with our income, we need to create a budget that clearly lays out where our money is going to go every month, we need to track our purchases and adjust our budget over time to meet our goal and over time we will see our savings stack up.

Setting Intrinsically Motivating Goals
Through our life experiences we have come to see the value and the true purpose of goal setting where our students coming into our classroom for the most part are new to this goal setting process and it is our job as the teacher to help guide our students to learned to develop meaningful intrinsically motivating goals. However the question remains, how do we create the drive in our students to create these meaningful goals that are going to help to intrinsically motivate them?  I recently read A Mindset for Learning by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz which helped me to tease apart this challenge of helping our students to create meaningful goals.

They cite Daniel Pink’s research from his book Drive that in order to develop drive and motivation, goal development should allow students autonomy, or an element of control over what the student does, purpose, that what the student is working on is a part of something bigger than themselves and mastery.

It is so important in the goal setting stages of the PLP that the student is the real driver of this process with careful cueing and guiding on the part of the teacher and parents. I am going to admit that it can be VERY difficult helping students set meaningful goals while giving them the autonomy and control for them to set strong goals. Realistically we want our students to be setting meaningful goals where they can get in a rhythm of working towards those goals and are motivated by the feedback that they are receiving and evidence they are collecting as they watch themselves move towards the mastery.

Goals Setting Conference
It is important to help guide your students to set goals that are based on their current passions and areas that they have personally identified that they would like to work on. Having a goals setting conference with students is a crucial step in the process where the teacher can really get a holistic look at the child to see the “why” behind the goals and it is here that the teacher can help the child to articulate their goal in a way that will help the student to reach mastery. Look for areas where students are already working hard, this is a great place to start the conversation with the student. For example, if the student is a boy scout and is working hard towards a merit badge, that may be a good connection for the goal setting. The key is that you want your students to be developing goals, even if it is not the goal that you would select for them or one that you feel may be out of reach because through the student gathering evidence and reflecting on their goals they will get the feedback needed to adjust their goal or go back and select a new goal.

When students have created their goals they will need support to break the goal down into attainable action steps with benchmarks. Once the student has reached this phase, it is time to engage the family and through a dialogue the student can receive feedback from their families while also collaborating with their parents on their goals.

Resources for Setting Goals:




Goal Setting


Students will use a SMART goal setting template to identify goals that are important to the student, specific and measurable. These goals will help the students craft a plan to help them meet their goals.  Questions for students to consider:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Am I willing and able to work toward this goal?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?
  • What is my timeframe for accomplishing this goal?


Example Goal Setting Template



Team Summit Goal Setting

Students bridge from Identity to Growth and Reflection through the setting of goals. On Team Summit, that includes 2 academic goals, a Green Team goal, one extracurricular goal, and a goal of choice. Students will discuss, develop, and plan short and long-term goals for the trimester and year.  Creating A Goals Page


Video Reflection: Goals


Setting Goals: 2015


Trimester 1 Reflection


Swift House Goal Setting

Students utilize goal statements from the Vital Results and Transferable Skills to help identify and set goals for the quarter, semester and year. Swift House Transferable Skills  and Personal Goals

Shelburne Community School

Students are using 1) a mored traditional goal setting framework and 2)  a goal setting framework designed specifically for the personalized learning.  

SCS Goal Setting Framework


SCS Personalized Learning Goal Setting


Swift House

Life Skills Learning scales for setting goals and reflection. Life Skills Learning Scales


Evidence and Reflection
Once your students have set their goals that contain the elements of autonomy, purpose and mastery; evidence and reflection will keep the students and their goals on track. This evidence and reflection cycle will help the students get into the “flow” of goals growth and allow for them to recognize small successes and celebrations that will serve as the reward to their intrinsically motivating goal.

Just as the saying goes “if you don’t use it, you lose it,” if a student is not in a regular evidence and reflection cycle around their goals, the child will lose sight of their goal and it will lose meaning for the student. Regular routines in the classroom for students to find concrete evidence of growth on their goals will help them track their progress. On our team we have students place all of their evidence, which can be in the form of photographs, videos, pieces of academic work, as well as reflections, which can include written responses, teacher feedback and  on a blog that is linked to their site.

These evidence and reflection blog posts serve as talking points for goals check in conferences with students. It is key to help students re-align goals if they are either too thin, I am going to do my homework, or too think, I am going to become a chef, or if they are goals that are not working for the student at that time. Just as in the goal setting it is important to give the students autonomy in the goals check in conferences to have some control over the alignment of their goals.



Reflective Writing Prompts


Once students have created goals and have started to work towards mastery of their goals they should be regularly reflecting on their growth. Goals Growth Reflection Prompts

Students Gathering Evidence of Growth Towards Goals



Real Reflection


Check out this post from the Tarrant Institute’s Life Legeros on the use of the REAL Framework.  

The REAL Framework


Growth Mindset

Parent Communication and Conferences
One major part of Act 77 is the engagement of parents through the goal setting, planning and reflection stages of the PLP. It is important to come up with a strategy to use to engage parents in the PLP process. One way to invite parents to participate in this process is through a student led conference. This is a shift away from the traditional conference where the teacher is facilitator, to one where the child is the center of the conversation. There should be a minimum of two student led conferences a year.

The first conference will be a goal setting and planning conference which should take part at the beginning of the school year.  This would be a time for the student to present their goals and plan for the school year. Parents will give feedback to the child and as a team with the student, parent and teacher, as well as anyone else who is involved in the goals such as a student advisor or a particular core teacher. Each member will communicate their role in the implementation PLP and identify how they will help support the student’s growth over the year.

The second student led conference should take place toward the end of the school year and act as a celebration of learning and growth. This roundtable conference will be a time for the student to show evidence of growth on their PLP. The student will share the successes and challenges faced throughout the journey of meeting their goals. The members of the team will help to reflect and evaluate the components of the PLP.




Student Goals Meeting Protocol


Several times a school year the student and a team including the teacher, parents and other members of the plan should gather for a student led conference. It is important for each member of the team to know what their role is during the student led conference. Student Led Conference Protocol

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