Teaching Students Accountability Through Goal Setting Initiative

Students learn best when they are intrinsically motivated, when they can connect the dots between what they are doing in class today and their short- and long-term goals.

For example, some students are just born (and encouraged by parents) with a desire to do well in whatever they do. These students have been on the honor role since kindergarten, play team sports, an instrument in the band, or are involved in other extracurricular activities.

Some students, who many not have that intrinsic motivation, do well in school because they have a specific goal they wish to achieve. A student who plans to be a nurse, for example, and who knows that he will need to be able to communicate clearly in his profession, will connect today’s grammar lesson with his career objectives. He will pay attention in class, make sure his work is turned in on time, and give his best effort.

Understanding this, my school district has established a PRIDE initiative to encourage our students to invest in their own futures now.

PRIDE stands for Personal Responsibility Involves Daily Effort

The PRIDE theme serves as the driving force behind my middle school’s Dream Catcher Initiative, which requires each student to set short- or long-term goals in four areas:

  • Academics
  • Behavior
  • Attendance
  • Service

Kickoff to Dream Catcher Initiative

Students started the year with an introductory assembly. We showed students an “Overcomer” video, which I had the honor of producing. The video tells a brief story about how someone “failed,” followed by a slide showing how who that person was and what they eventually became. Here is an example:

Academic Failure

Do you know who I’m referring to? The students didn’t either. But you could here an audible murmur among the crowd when the next slide appeared:

Wilson Rawls' Writing Success

All the students were familiar with Wilson Rawls’ book, “Where the Red Fern Grows.” They were amazed to learn that he struggled with writing formal English, just like many of them do.

The presentation set the theme for this year: That even if you have a lot to overcome, you can. We believe in you.

After the “Overcomer” presentation, we introduced our students to the Dream Catcher initiative, in which students would be awarded points in each of the four areas. For example, students would receive no grades lower than “C” receive 6 points for the quarter, students with no unexcused absences receive 4 points for the quarter (those with 3 unexcused absences receive 1 point), students who have had no discipline issues receive 4 points, and students who perform four hours of school service receive 4 points.

Students also receive 6 points at the beginning of the year for writing their Dream Catcher essay.

In this essay, students define an overall goal — either short- or long-term — and then talk about how they will work this year, in each of the four areas, to achieve that goal. The essay was written by students in their English classes, and then kept in class to be revisited at the end of the year for reflection. (Additionally, I am having my students revise their essay at the beginning of each nine weeks, so students can reflect on their progress and either discuss how they will renew their efforts, or how they can maintain them.)

We concluded the assembly by showing them their reward for a job well done. The school will pay for students to take a trip to a location they will love. Students who earn 75 points (or more) through the year will receive a ticket and transportation to the location, students who earn 90 points will also receive $25 spending money, and those who earn 100 points will receive $100 spending money.

Are you curious where they’re going?

Watch the video below:

Yes, we’ll take the students who have demonstrated personal responsibility throughout the year to Six Flags Over Texas.

You should have heard the students in the assembly when we showed them that video!

The first nine weeks have ended, and we have taken a look at our statistics and reports from our faculty and staff. Just this past nine weeks, the number of students on the ineligible list is down 50%. and our attendance numbers have increased by 2%. Teachers and staff have reported that students are seeking service projects.

What a boost to school culture, and an amazing learning experience for our students! Not only are they being asked to reflect on their own behavior, to think metacognitively, they are also experiencing working on a year-long project and reaching for a goal.

1st nine weeks report

At the end of the 1st nine weeks, a huge group of students had earned quarterly awards, which included a lanyard and a 100% luncheon pass, one free homework pass, and a free restroom pass.

Several of our students achieved their goals so far:

Dream Catcher Awards

What an inspiration! Those students who did not make the cut this 9 weeks can work to achieve their goals for subsequent 9 weeks, and they still have the opportunity to earn enough points to go on the Six Flags trip.

Keeping track

Our principal, Dalton Griffin, has created a rubric and tracking forms for this initiative to help students and teachers alike as we work through this system. Students keep their essays and service points records inside a Dream Catcher folder, which is kept in their English classroom:

Dream Catcher Folder

The office staff keeps track of attendance, behavior, and academic efforts by students.

I am looking forward to seeing students continue their growth in personal responsibility and helping them to stay the course, even when it gets hard, even when it’s not fun.


About the author 

Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed.

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education and co-Editor of the Oklahoma English Journal. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify students' voices and choices.

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