Nicki Murff Goedecke

    The first week back to work at the beginning of a new year can be a blur, and amid a busy schedule of preparations for the arrival of students for in-person and online learning, setting time aside to think about goals can feel like just one more item on a miles-long to-do list. Add to this the unexpected chaos that characterized 2020, and it may be tempting to write off any professional goal setting as futile. However, there is immense value in taking a step back at the beginning of a new semester to establish goals for the upcoming months. When done correctly, the time spent setting goals can help you feel renewed, refreshed, and ready to make the next semester a success.

    When setting goals for your semester, it can help to focus on these core areas:

    • Your goals for yourself as an educator – Would you like to change or improve upon your teaching methods, try something new, or incorporate new tools into your demonstrations?
    • Your goals for your students – Are you looking to improve student engagement or retention?
    • Your goals for the courses you teach – Would you like to experiment with a new training module or simulation scenario?
    • Your goals for your own professional development – Perhaps you’d like to attend more continuing education webinars or pursue an advanced degree or certificate.

    Setting goals for all these categories may feel overwhelming, but remember some of these areas may have goals that overlap. To help guide you on your goal-setting journey, consider the four below methods as guides for screening and refining your goals.


    Many are familiar with the SMART Goals framework, which specify that goals should be:

    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Realistic
    • Time-bound

    Checking that each goal on your list is a SMART goal will help you avoid goals that are too vague or lofty, increasing the chances that you will implement change and see results. For a detailed explanation of the SMART goals framework, including how to set SMART goals for your simulation lab, see our post “Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals for the Classroom.”


    An adaptation of the SMART Goals framework, SMARTER Goals adds an extra two letters onto the end of the word, standing for:

    • Evaluate: Take stock daily and/or weekly to assess progress
    • Review: Look back at your goals at the end of a specified time period to see whether or not you achieved them

    Regular goal assessments allow for course corrections along the way if you find that your current methods are not achieving the results you want to see. Likewise, a final review of goals is a good way to get a holistic view of a larger time period, and see the big-picture view of whether you’re achieving your goals, and what may be standing in your way if you’re not.

    REAL Goals

    As Professor of Education Debra Meyer, PhD, puts in her article “Make Your Teaching Goals REAL This Year,”:

    “…I have found that REAL goals are more effective in changing my practice more in meaningful and enduring ways. When the goals of teaching are REAL, they reflect changes I’ll be making that are steeped in a mastery mindset of continuous improvement. In the process of working toward them, I expect that my habits will become more authentic and long-lasting, transforming a “teaching goal” into a “teaching practice.”

    Meyer states her REAL goals as being:

    • Routine
    • Engaging
    • Authentic
    • Long-Lasting

    One of the key differences Meyer points out in her strategy is the lack of a specific timelines or end dates. For Meyer, REAL goals are ones that she intends to incorporate into her daily practice, that interest and engage her, that are true to life, and that she is always seeking to improve on.

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    The Five Principles of Goal Setting

    In their 1990 book, “A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance,” psychologists Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham list their five key principles of goal setting as:

    • Commitment: The goal must be desirable – worthy of striving toward even through obstacles.
    • Clarity: The goal must be specific and clear, and requirements for meeting it must be clearly stated.
    • Challenge: A goal should be just difficult enough that it poses a challenge, but not so difficult that it is outside one’s ability to achieve.
    • Complexity: The complexity of the goal must directly relate to the timetable set for it and the attainability – a goal should not be too simple, but also not overly complicated.
    • Feedback: Feedback, whether external or internal, feedback and reflection helps us evaluate the effectiveness of our actions toward meeting our goals.

    Time for Action

    Which of these four frameworks feels the most natural to you? Are you more familiar or comfortable with a different method of goal setting? Comment below and let us know if you’ve had success using these methods before – or if you’re ready to try them now.


    1. Meyer, Debra. “Make Your Teaching Goals REAL This Year.” Elmhurst University Blog, 17 Aug. 2019. 
    2. Dartmouth, University of Massachusetts. “Creating S.M.A.R.T. Goals.” UMass Dartmouth.
    3. Houston, Elaine. “What Is Goal Setting and How to Do It Well.” com, 12 Nov. 2020.
    4. Lynch, Matthew. “Re-Setting Student/Teacher Goals for the New Semester.” The Edvocate, 2 Jan. 2020. 
    5. Murff Goedecke, Nicki. “Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals for the Classroom,” Pocket Nurse SimTalk Blog, 17 Jan. 2019 .