Student Support

Help Students Build Confidence with Smart Goal Setting

Throughout the year, Upper School counselor Ms. Sam Straub sends a newsletter to teachers with insights and strategies to help students thrive. The newsletter, titled One Small Thing, addresses relevant social and academic challenges our students face. Ms. Straub creates these newsletters as a tool for teachers, but many of her tips can also be useful for families as you guide your children toward independence. Here is One Small Thing you can try at home to set smart goals for a successful school year.

Good Research Makes Great Strategy

This One Small Thing comes from the book Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives by Rachel Simmons. Ms. Straub explores the concept of goal-setting that Simmons introduces in her book.
“While Simmons’s book targets girls, I believe this goal-setting framework is applicable to all genders and all ages. I hope that this One Small Thing stands to be a tool to use with our students and advisees, but also one we can apply in our own lives.” — Ms. Straub

Healthy Goals are Realistic Goals

In Enough As She Is, Simmons discusses the importance of setting goals, but cautions against the perfectionist’s habit of setting outsized ones. Unrealistically high goals can cause people to frequently fall short, resulting in self-doubt or a negative self-image which can drive the perfectionist to set more lofty goals. The result is a nasty self-perpetuating cycle.

Instead, Simmons suggests using a three-stage system for healthy goal setting. Her system can work for all students whether they strive for perfection or default to apathy when faced with a large challenge. 

  • Stage 1: Identify Your Comfort Zone. This is what comes easily to a person RIGHT NOW. In short, behaviors in this zone require little if any additional effort beyond the status quo.
  • Stage 2: Identify Your Low-Risk Zone. In this zone, a person puts themselves ever-so-slightly out of their comfort zone but not so much as to terrify or overwhelm them. Behaviors in this zone require some effort, but not Herculean amounts.
  • Stage 3: Identify Your High-Risk Zone. This is when goals become too overwhelming, making them an added source of stress because they are too threatening or too demanding. This is the zone many perfectionists shoot for out of the starting block, setting themselves up for failure.

Simmons recommends shooting for goals in the low-risk zone. Accomplishing these small steps results in bravery, as opposed to the self-doubt that ensues from missing the mark in one’s high-risk zone. And bravery begets agency which helps us continue to move in positive, forward directions.

As you help your children set study schedules and prepare for the upcoming months, help them identify early, low-risk-zone steps they can take toward accomplishing bigger goals. This strategy reduces the stress of looming deadlines and helps students build the confidence and motivation they need to have a great year.

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Lower School

Preschool-Grade 5
Chesapeake Campus
1185 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd
Arnold, MD 21012

Middle/Upper School

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Teel Campus
Severna Park, MD 21146