How much do you remember of your pre-pandemic school routine? Did you struggle to wake up in the morning and fight to get to sleep at night? Or maybe you didn't want to go to sleep and fought with your caregivers, instead. Did you eagerly tackle homework and make sure your bookbag was packed and school clothes wear-ready before going to sleep?

It's human nature to 'forget' whatever is not relevant at a given moment and in the aftermath of a crisis. So, if you're a bit foggy about how student life was pre-COVID, that's perfectly understandable.

Another COVID side-effect: after a year of uncertainty and (sometimes patchy) remote learning, plenty of students wonder what the point of school is and, by extension, why students should set any goals ahead of their return to academia.

If that's you, pull up a chair. Your Superprof has a few thoughts to share.

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The Point of School and Goals

Usually, we're told that the point of school is learning. School is meant to make sure that every future adult has roughly the same knowledge base in a variety of subjects.

You: If standardising education and learning were the only purposes of school, how come we have so many electives to choose from? Wouldn't maths, language and science be all we'd need to find our place in the world? Doesn't the selection of electives prove that education isn't standardised?

You're right on both counts, but only to an extent.

Some students are not happy to be back in school
Not every student is happy or prepared to return to school. Photo by javier trueba on Unsplash

For one, a student who wants a career in data science needs much more maths education than someone who wants to become an art historian, for example. Indeed, future art historians - historians of all types would be severely underserved if schools' curricula consisted only of maths and English. Moving on to electives, now...

Let's say you want to study languages. You can only choose between the languages that have an established curriculum, and for which there is someone qualified to teach it. Furthermore, the books and exercises are carefully put together to reflect standards of expected achievement.

Thus, the Department for Education limits you to studying only languages that have been tailored to meet a set standard. If you're more interested in language mechanics, dialects or philology, you're out of luck. Understanding this gives a clue to schools' greater purpose, of which education is only a small part.

The primary purpose of school is to foster personal growth.

In school, you learn to function within a social construct, following directions and working alongside others. You may even be tasked with collaborating and cooperating with fellow students. And homework? Its purpose is to teach you how to work independently.

Without these skills, our society would function very differently. School helps us grow into our future selves as functional members of society.

And, if we accept that school is the primary vehicle for personal growth, then, by extension, we must have personal goals to strive towards.

"What do you want to do with your life?" - Twisted Sister; We're Not Going to Take it

Granted, this song is rather dated but it still resonates with students and adults alike. In the song's intro, a seemingly uptight father challenges his guitar-playing son to figure out what he's going to do with his life.

Remarkably, the young rocker-in-the-making had a goal: becoming a rock guitarist. From there, the song's video shows a hilarious takeover of the family home, during which the poor dad is tossed about the house and into the gardens below.

You may already have an idea of what you want to do with your life - the song is passé but that question is still relevant. Setting goals is your roadmap for how you'll get there.

Besides being a roadmap to your future, goals help you track your personal development. You can only become who you want to be with a clear plan; otherwise, you too will be plagued with the aimlessness that the unfortunate father thought was besetting his son.

The goals in question needn't only be goals for the beginning of the school year. In fact, this exercise in goal-setting can be a template for a lifelong habit of setting and reaching goals.

What Goals Should Be

Wanting to do something can be considered a goal if that desire comes complete with steps for how to achieve it. And there should be certainty and determination, too. You can't just say "I'm going to go to China someday" and call that a goal.

Why will you go to China - work? Study? Travel? Understand a culture so vastly different from our own? How will you prepare for your adventure - study Mandarin? Learn about that country's long history? Find Chinese pen-pals?

What about the logistics of travelling - do you have a passport? Do you know how to apply for a Chinese visa? Do you have money to fund your trip and stay? And what will you do if there's an emergency of any sort?

If, indeed, your goal is to travel to China, having an answer to all of these questions (and others) turns a wish into a goal, meaning you are taking steps to achieve an objective.

Wishing to travel to faraway places will not make it a reality
Wishing to explore exotic lands is vastly different than setting a goal to explore. Photo by Dave Ruck on Unsplash

Because attaining goals leads to desired results, goals have to be:

  • targeted; exact - what, specifically, do you want to achieve?
  • measurable: how will you track your progress?
  • stronger than obstacles, so you don't give up on them
  • meaningful to you

S.M.A.R.T. goals - specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely goals is just one goal-setting model. Depending on the goal you're setting and your personal circumstances, you might find the goal-setting method of Appreciative Inquiry more useful.

That's when you emphasise the positive aspects of your goals. The flipside is called negative problem identification, where you study all the troubles you might run into while working towards your goals.

As we're talking about back-to-school goals, your aims needn't be lofty - you don't have to undertake world peace or the climate crisis (just yet). But that doesn't matter; setting goals works the same way whether you're planning to feed the world's hungry or turn in your homework on time.

To get good at it, you probably need to know more about setting personal goals.

The Type of Goals Students Set

As school mostly consists of showing up and doing what you're told, you might wonder what kinds of goals you should set. They range from the mundane - I will have perfect attendance this semester, to the targeted: I will pass the Level B1 DALF (French) exam this year.

As mentioned in the last segment, you can start defining your goals by figuring out what's meaningful to you.

If this pandemic has severely impacted you, that experience is meaningful. Conversely, if you can't wait to explore the world on your own, then that's your meaningful topic.

Let's fit those two into an educational framework, now.

COVID's effect may spur you to learn more about biology, virology and zoology. You might select courses that feed that interest and even decide on a career as a virologist or other type of scientist.

Travel: you can explore the world, civilisations and societies through geography, history and sociology courses. You may decide to become an archaeologist, sociologist or a wildlife photographer.

These examples illustrate well how short-term goals influence long-term ones. We can flip that around to find that long-term goals also influence short-term ones.

Let's say you've always known you want to be a nurse, police officer or barrister. That's your long-term goal. How you get there - the courses you choose, the university degree plan you select and how you develop yourself to fit into that role... those are all short-term goals.

And if you don't yet know what your future will be? No worries, short-term goals are important, too.

Setting learning goals can help you maintain enthusiasm
If you, like these students, are not particularly enthused about being back in school, try setting learning goals. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Return to School Goals

One of the biggest drawbacks to last year's lockdowns was the aimless drift of time. Bedtimes and mealtimes were all suspended. As for getting dressed and ready to face the world? We barely had to comb our hair to be presentable for remote learning!

Last year was what we students do every holiday break, taken to the extreme.

And, just like after every holiday break, we need to get back in the habit of getting up, getting out and doing work. It might be a tad more difficult, this time around so, far from deciding right now what your future life will be like, you should set simple goals to get yourself back in the swing of school.

  • Aim to go to bed at a reasonable hour so that you can get the needed rest and wake up in time for breakfast before getting ready for school.
  • Commit yourself to lay out your clothes and packing your bookbag before going to bed. What a great morning stress beater that is!
  • Resolve to do your homework on the day it was assigned, even if you have a few days before having to hand it in.
  • Plan your screen time. If the pandemic has shown us nothing else, it's how easily our devices eat up the day.

These are just starter goals. You may also make goals to improve your marks in a difficult subject, to participate more in class and start studying subjects you're interested in independently.

If you're moving to Key Stage 4 next year, you could aim to research possible GCSE subjects and, if you're a GCSE or A-Level candidate, your goal might entail establishing and sticking to a study schedule.

These goals, along with any other S.M.A.R.T. goal you set for yourself are how you take charge of your personal development. Sticking to your goals ensures measurable personal growth.

So don't forget to reward yourself for reaching your goals!

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.