How to write SMARTER goals for brilliant outcomes

As children, families and service providers settle into their new programmes and routines for most the ‘getting to know you’ phase is coming to an end. It’s time to refine the child’s learning goals and design great therapy and education programmes to reach those goals and beyond. Are the child’s bright and shiny term one goals leaping from true family centred practice or are they engineered by what the service providers and educators can provide? A tough question, there are interesting perspectives on this question and it really should generate debate. It is often a dance to get the child’s goals just right.

During a recent meeting I asked Susie’s mum the question, “what would you like Susie to be able to do by the end of term”. Through powerful coaching questions Susie’s mum was guided right down to the essence of what she and her partner wanted for their beautiful little girl. We mind mapped the entire conversation, identified themes and prioritised. We talked and planned together and it took a little while. In this instant Susie’s goals were generated by her parents, who were well informed by her current therapy and school team. Other parents rely heavily on what the therapist and the educators say and perhaps lose their own voice in the conversation.

Mindmapping as a visual planning tool is a personal favourite of mine.  The Family Goal Setting Tool is a new tool and is proving a terrific asset to my family service coordination work. There are other great tools that support families through the goals setting and programme planning phases. Disability service providers and schools may have developed their own in house goals setting protocols. The more thought and discussion given to the goals the better.

From my conversations it seems that not many parents, educators and service providers are brave enough to write up real measurable goals. We all know the sort of goals we should be writing, they are S.M.A.R.T. goals. The acronym generally stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound. Admittedly there are a few variations of this acronym but the gist is similar. The the goal, the easier it is to plan the intervention required and measure progress. Bust out the pencil and paper,  work the words, over and over, until the goal is a super S.M.A.R.T. This is a great team building exercise and bring clarity to our service provision.

Here is a new one to think about… S.M.A.R.T.E.R goals. These are S.M.A.R.T goals that are Evaluated and Reviewed. This provides a good reminder that teams need to review the child’s goals, use them as the basis of team discussions, measure gains, evaluate and review. I suspect that many goals are written at the start of programmes and then filed, never to be seen again. Not any more for our wonderful 2015 clients.

For Susie and her family our initial goal setting conversation and mind map provided the back bone of Susie’s therapy and learning programme for the term. Rest assured that we tidied it up considerably and did away with the coloured notes, arrows and diagrams. However a goal needs a detailed plan, otherwise- a goal without a plan is just a wish. Plan the work and then work the plan, detail who will do what, who owns each goal and agree on how the team will work confidently and cohesively around each goal. Creative team discussion will light the way and bounce the child’s goals from a paper plan into reality.

The value of well written goals is multifaceted. It will determine who makes up the child’s current team and the frequency and intensity of their educational and therapy service provision. The child’s programme is focused and strategy clash minimised. The goal document anchors team discussions and ensures that the team area all pulling in the same agreed direction. They also provide a line in the sand, a point from which progress can be measured. And as the acronym suggests, remember to Evaluate and Review. Kick off the goal setting conversation and take the challenge of writing even S.M.A.R.T.E.R goals for 2015.

Cathy Love

Occupational Therapist, Coach, Disability Service Consultant, Facilitator


M:    0448316319

FB:   Nacre Consulting

T:     @NacreConsulting

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] during my family service coaching conversations. Whilst I have blogged about goals in the past, Who’s goal is it anyway? (Feb 2015) I thought it would be good to […]

  2. […] goals setting process was next. Together with both parents we worked for SMARTER goals. Goals that are as measurable as possible and also evaluated and revised. No point having goals, […]

  3. […] have written about the topic of smarter goals previously but it’s an issue that I continue to tackle during my family service coaching work. […]

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