Education, K-12


“Let’s write some goals.”

Collective groan.

By 10 years old, my students are tired of making goals.  I don’t blame them.  After more than four decades of writing goals, I’ve grown a bit weary of them myself.  It’s not that I don’t have goals.  It’s just that I’m an “Achiever,” (according to one of the many personality assessments I’ve done over the years) and my life is pretty much an infinite list of goals because I get depressed when I’m not working on accomplishing something.  So, writing goals down seems a waste of time – time that could be spent on trying to achieve some goals.

When it comes to having students write goals, I feel like we are just going through the motions.  They write something they think I want them to write, sometimes even make a “plan,” and then pretty much go on living their life the same exact way they were living it before.

I will be the first to admit that it’s my fault that goal-setting never seems to go far with my students.  I usually start out well, checking in with them regularly, and then life seems to happen and goal-checking just doesn’t seem to lead the list of priorities.

So, I’m going to make it a goal to be better at helping students make (and achieve) goals.

It’s possible goal-making has never seemed very genuine to me because I’ve been skipping an important step with my students.  Instead of doing WOOP, we’ve been doing WOP, and that extra “O” apparently makes a big difference.

WOOP, according to Gabriele Oettingen, stands for, “Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan.”  The problem many people make in setting goals, by Oettingen’s reckoning, is ignoring the potential obstacles.  We are usually good at figuring out what we want to accomplish, how it would feel, and how to get there, but we tend to omit any consideration of the very real problems that we may encounter on the way.

Just to digress a little, I know that WOP can have negative connotations, but it was actually the nickname of one of my husband’s uncles.  It took me a few years after meeting Uncle Wop to find out how he got his nickname.  It turns out that he was running to go outside when he was a kid and ran into a glass door.  Wop.

And that’s kind of what we do when we skip the Obstacle part of WOOP.  We know we want to get somewhere and have a quick plan to get there, but we don’t think about what might stand in our way and how to deal with it or avoid it.  We hit the glass door.

And we WOP instead of WOOP.

And if we are really unlucky, we get labeled with an unfortunate nickname that lasts for another seventy years.

If you’d like to read more about WOOP and see an example of each step, check out this article on Mindshift.


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