New Year’s Resolutions for Students

It’s that time of year again — the new year when many of us set impossible goals or make empty promises to ourselves about “bettering” something in our lives. Do you know there’s a better way to set achievable goals?

When I instruct my students about reflecting and goal setting, I use the popular SMART goals method, an acronym which helps direct us to make goals that are, well, smart. The same directives we use in the classroom to set SMART goals can be easily applied to students’ papers about New Year’s resolutions, a short writing task I give my students on the first day back from winter break. I, too, will use the SMART goals method to set and reach my own personal New Year’s resolutions this year. But how, exactly, can we weave SMART goals into resolutions for students?

Let’s take a look!


The acronym varies slightly among teachers and educational resources, but the basic expectations of SMART goals are seen below:

Specific (simple, straightforward)

Measurable (meaningful, monitored)

Achievable (attainable, agreed upon)

Relevant (reasonable/realistic, results-oriented)

Timely (trackable, tangible)

Specific, Simple, Straightforward

Much like setting SMART goals, students’ New Year’s resolutions should be specific or straightforward, meaning “Do better in school” would not make the cut. We must prompt students to specify exactly what they hope to change or achieve. Ask questions like, “In which class or classes do you want to see improvement?” “What grade do you consider to be ‘better’?”

Measurable, Meaningful, Monitored

A measurable or monitored resolution should be quantifiable; it must involve progress which can be tracked. Ask students how they plan to track or measure the progress, and how often they should check-in, evaluate, or adjust based on the measured progress. For instance, if a resolution is to improve their timed mile run by dropping 30 seconds, encourage them to keep time logs, workout schedules, and other exact measures of their progress.

Achievable, Attainable, Agreed Upon

An achievable resolution is one within the realm of reality — and students need to be aware of this fact. Resolutions must be attainable and realistic. While we teachers should not dash dreams or cut anyone short of their highest potential, we also need to help students realize what is and is not achievable in the manner or timeline they have allotted. If a student’s resolution or goal is to win the state’s 1st place mile, but they have never run any sort of distance race, their aim is set much too high. This is not to say they cannot one day reach that level, but this resolution should detail smaller steps in an effort to reach that point in the future.

Depending on a student’s age, the achievable factor should be agreed upon, meaning a parent or other adult figure is “in” on the accountability of the resolution. Relevant resolutions should be goals that matter on a larger scale. If a student wants to focus on family time, a resolution might be to keep the cell phone off and away during meals, gatherings, and other family activities. This goal is certainly achievable; there are no outside factors which could disrupt the goal. The student simply has to be mindful of his or her presence during family time. It is relevant because the cell phone is a likely distractor during conversations and meals.

Timely, Trackable, Tangible

Finally, a timely resolution is one that has a definitive starting point and incremental check-ins. When writing a New Year’s resolution, students should ask themselves, “What can I do today to work towards this? What can I do two weeks from now? Two months from now? What would this resolution look like in 6 months?” Working towards the resolution or goal should start right away — as we all know, procrastination is a surefire way to derail our progress.

Giving Feedback to Teens

Woman and daughter standing together in their home

Research has consistently shown that the therapeutic relationship is one of the most significant factors when it comes to creating real and lasting change in our clients. Helping professionals who work with teens have a unique challenge in relating to and engaging authentically with adolescents. They aren’t kids anymore, and they’re not quite adults yet either. Because we cannot fully know what it feels like to be a teenager in today’s world, communication is paramount to building a productive working relationship.

One way to foster strong communication with teens is to offer constructive feedback in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the relationship. This can be a tricky task, but when done effectively, feedback is a relationship enhancer that leads to positive outcomes.

Here are some strategies that I’ve found helpful for facilitating feedback while maintaining a focus on an authentic relationship.

Anchor your feedback around a positive personal trait or characteristic. 

This may sound counter to much of what you may have heard in the past about providing feedback about performance in a way that is objective and decidedly not personal. But consider this: When we address a trait like determination, sensitivity, or sense of humor, we express interest in and acknowledge the teen in a deeper way. This approach can reinforce something that’s working well, or focus on redirecting something that’s getting in the way of the teen achieving her goals.

It may help to describe the idea that traits and characteristics are a two-sided coin. There’s always an upside and a downside. For example, productive persistence is another version of disruptive stubbornness; and intense emotions resulting in warmth and empathy for others can also result in emotional pain. Helping teens to understand how particular characteristics drive their behavior can also help them see how such behaviors may serve them well in some situations and not so well in others. Encouraging young people to accept themselves and pointing out their qualities and how they allows them to hear the feedback without defensiveness and can offset feedback’s sting so it is more useful and likely to result in a change in behavior.

Link feedback to the goals of the young person.

As helping adults, we should always think about the purpose and function of the feedback we’re giving, rather than responding with irritation or impatience. This means both being clear within ourselves before we open our mouths, and also stating clearly to the teen what the purpose of the feedback is in relation to what matters to them.

Help teens see which of their behaviors advance them toward their goals and which ones stand in the way makes feedback useful and effective. Consider starting with a statement or question acknowledging what’s important to the teen before helping her explore whether her approach has moved her close to what is important or further away.

Remember that feedback often takes time to integrate. 

Feedback should be a collaborative process. Ideally, the process of giving and receiving feedback is a dialogue that encourages a spirit of self-exploration and personal inquiry into what’s important to the teens you work with. If possible, it should be a prompt to help her come to conclusions about how she might think about adjusting her behavior to move closer to what matters. This approach may take more time than simply telling an adolescent what needs to change, but it will be time well spent.

If at all possible, instead of telling a teen what needs to change, try instead asking questions that lead her to her own conclusions. As her what she notices about the way people respond to certain behaviors and if this is what she is seeking. Consider asking her to pay attention to the less direct natural feedback all around her. This will encourage her to take ownership of her behavior with greater understanding of her goals, her boundaries, and herself as a whole.

When it comes to potentially embarrassing or awkward subjects, be short and sweet. 

Particularly for teens, whose bodies are going through rapid changes, there are plenty of subjects that can be downright embarrassing to address. There are times when it is really none of our business, but there are also times when these issues affect our work with the teen or when we see that these issues may be affecting them negatively in other realms of their lives. In the latter case, it’s our responsibility to say something.

One way to give feedback on potentially embarrassing topics is to frame your comments in terms of the natural growth and maturation that occurs with adolescents. Don’t forget to communicate that your intentions come from a place of caring, while taking a straight-to-the-point, nonjudgmental, problem-solving approach. Normalize the potentially awkward subject (i.e. a teen’s increasingly noticeable body odor after gym class, or the revealing nature of a young person’s clothing), propose a solution, and move on. Teens appreciate when adults are open and direct, and this will go a long way in establishing and maintaining a relationship characterized by honesty and authenticity.

Put behaviors in a social context. 

Socially successful teens are aware of how their behaviors are impacting others, and feedback is a great way to help them build this awareness. Egocentrism is developmentally inherent in teens, but understanding the effects they have on those around them helps maintain perspective. It also helps build motivation for behavior change.

Frame feedback by expressing good intentions. 

One approach that teens respond to is to say, “If I didn’t know you so well, I’d be reluctant to tell you this directly; may I give you some feedback?” This allows you to frame the feedback within caring intentions, and most young people’s ears perk up at the information to follow.

It can be awkward at times to be direct and honest with the teens we work with. Even when we’re able to engage authentically, feedback can be difficult to accept for all people, regardless of age or stage of life. If we make a commitment to deliver feedback with compassion and kindness whenever possible, we can at least ensure that teens will pick up on our intentions to communicate caring and respect, which will ultimately lead to a stronger and more authentic relationship in the long run.

The Sixth Annual Social Good Summit Will Inspire World Action


Since 2010, the Social Good Summit has grown substantially aided by the increasing popularity of social media and technology. Mashable in partnership with the United Nations General Assembly decided to bring people together global leaders to discuss how to utilize technology to eradicate poverty. People over the globe are becoming empowered to share their voices in an effort to be heard, and the Social Good Summit has committed to listening to those diverse voices.

The Social Good Summit is a two day conference discussing the impact of technology and media on current social good initiatives. Starting today on September 27th, days after the United Nations ratification of its Global Goals, the goals aim to eradicate poverty, inequality, increase access to education and protect the environment.

It is hoped that these goals will create sustained growth of the bottom 40% of the population to empower and promote their general welfare. These goals will guide policy and funding, and the purpose of the Social Good Summit is discuss the coordination of these goals globally. With now over 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24, it is clear why the UN has a youth focus to work towards the eradication of poverty by 2030.

The venue for this year’s Social Good Summit is 92nd Street Y which is a world class cultural and community centre that encourages people to connect through culture, the arts, entertainment and conversation. This year’s speakers include Kathy Calvin and Pete Cashmore, the CEO’s of the United Nations Foundation and Mashable respectively, as well as Sienna Miller, Charlize Theron and Savannah Guthrie. Using the hashtag #2030Now, social media and live streaming will definitely allow everyone to get involved!

In 2014, over 170 countries were connected through video and social media, with 65 countries and counting for 2015 it is thought this year could be even bigger. Jamaica, Turkmenistan and Guatemala have signed up and for the first time ever will be involved in the Social Good Summit. Global meet-ups will play a huge part in the Social Good Summit and allow people around the globe to take part and discuss how communities are using the digital tools to build a brighter future.

Also in 2014, #2030 trended at number one globally, breaking down any language barriers between the 45 different languages involved! The Social Good Summit is surrounded by a week of related events which provide encouragement to take action and identify innovations that can create the world we want. Two days of jam-packed sessions, including ‘The Tipping Point for Human Rights’, ‘Sustainable Cities’ and regular global meet-up check-ins, to keep everyone involved.

The voices of global citizens will be a necessary force for change, and the Social Good Summit has taken on the role of helping to facilitate conversations with UN officials, pop culture icons, activists and entrepreneurs around the world who want to create this change. Be a part of the Social Good Summit in helping to create the kind of world we all want to make a reality. Watch the summit via live stream at

Why You Can’t Afford to Wait for Your Ship to Come In and 7 Steps to Take Instead

Recently, my father had a heart attack. But get this, it was evidently his second one. We found out he had a smaller one prior because the doctors discovered some additional veins that had grown to try to compensate for the loss of an artery that had died at some point in the past .

And that dizzy spell he had 2 weeks ago? A small stroke. Not news you like to receive about your loved-one.


The reality is that at 77 none of these events are uncommon or even surprising. My dad is a little on the heavy side, has high blood pressure, and doesn’t engage in any routine aerobic activity – prime risk factors for coronary health issues. So based on the statistics (here are some alarming ones for you), he’s extremely fortunate to be alive.

But what has bothered me most of all about this scenario is not that he could have died, but that maybe he hadn’t fully lived.

Hear me out…


See, even at 77 (he’ll be 78 in July) my dad still has a full-time job and pays rent on a house that isn’t his, not because he wants to, because he has to.

He’s got brothers and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and cousins and friends that he’d love to spend time with, but he can’t afford the cost to visit (and it’s not like they live in other countries, just in other states).

Even I hope to get married some day, but I know for a fact that as far as help goes for the expenses I’m on my own – and while I am totally fine with that, what daughter wouldn’t want to know that she could call on her parents for some financial support if she needed to?


I think it’s fair to say that being his age and still having to work was not my dad’s plan. He thought he would have become rich and live off of his retirement like the story books said he would. He thought he would have traveled the world and left a big fat inheritance for his children and his grand children. He was sure that his ship would have come in by now. 

Let’s face it, my dad’s situation is, unfortunately, not unique. In fact it could be nearly anybody’s story in America today. Check almost any crowd funding platform around and you’re sure to find headlines like this: Family of Man Who Suffered Heart Attack Requesting Donations for Mounting Medical Costs. 

The  sad truth is that my dad’s proverbial ‘ship’ has yet to come in – at least in the way that would allow him to eliminate money as a concern. And while, of course, his health is the most important thing right now, not having to worry about money could sure help to speed up the recovery process.



See, there’s a problem with ships; sometimes they sink, and at the end of the day the opportunity, lucky break, or winning streak you were waiting for may never show up.

And besides that the bigger truth is this:“It is no use waiting for your ship to come in unless you have sent one out. Belgian Proverb

Look, here’s the bottom line: someday we’re all gonna die.

I’m gonna die, you’re gonna die, and my dad – bless his heart – is gonna die. That’s the realest ‘ish there is. Once you can grasp that then the next question is, ‘if that death came today, could you honestly say that you’d lived your life on purpose’?

For each one of us the answer to that question hinges on the opportunities that we’ve taken or the choices that we’ve made to create those opportunities for ourselves. As my man Tony Robbins says, your destiny is determined by 3 things: what you choose to focus on, the meaning you give to it, and what you do based on that meaning. 

So with this ultimate end in mind, if you haven’t already determined to experience your life fully, YOU’RE the guy sitting on the dock waiting for a ship that’s never coming in because it’s never really been launched.  

...but the good news is, you don’t have to be.


As social workers we’re good for giving this sort of advice to our clients and even to our friends, but truth be told, we’re horrible at taking it ourselves. And while I would never discourage any social worker from giving of themselves (in fact, that’s our entire job), I did write a whole book on the crucial importance of caring for one’s self first – and in my book (pun intended) that includes, not negates, your personal dreams and deepest passions. 


So what do you need to do to make sure that your ship arrives safely at port and with all its bells and whistles?

  1. Do a self assessment: Ask yourself those important life questions like, What would I change or improve if resources were no concern? If I knew I was dying soon, what would I regret not completing? What is my soul’s deepest desire and am I being true to it?’ Questions like these should ignite a sense of urgency that you’ll need if you’re ever going to leave the port.
  2. Write it down: Brainstorm your loftiest dreams and desires and write them down! Don’t erase anything, just let your creative juices flow. Writing things down has a way of lodging them into your consciousness and bringing them closer to your reality. It will also help you to get clear on what you’ll create in your life from this point on. 
  3. Vision it: If you can dream it, you can do it. It almost doesn’t matter what it is. Use the power of your imagination to see your ideas come to fruition. You’ll know you’ve done it right when you start to feel as excited just thinking about it as you will when it arrives. 
  4. Make a plan: It doesn’t even matter if you have 1 cent or a million bucks, write down the steps that it would take to turn your dream into reality. Make these steps so simple that a 5 year old could follow them – that means with details. And don’t forget to add emotion to it. How will you feel at each step of the way? Now feel your feelings deeper. You’ve got it!
  5. Start working on your plan. This is where we put your plan into action and enlist the help of others to move forward. A coach or mentor who has successfully walked the path before you is usually a good starting point. They’ll help you with your strategy and techniques that will save you time and energy to reach your dreams that much faster.
  6. Feel deep gratitude in advance for the thing(s) you’ve imagined. This works on two levels: first on an emotional level because it feels good, and then on a universal level because it brings more gifts to you. The more grateful you are, the more you will receive to be grateful for. So if you want more to be grateful for, don’t skip this part!
  7. Act as if you’ve already achieved your goals and pretty soon you will. Just think “Form Follows Fashion” and you win!

I’ve talked to enough social workers to know that we have big dreams and desires just like our clients do, but that often money (or the lack thereof) plays a major role in whether or not we achieve them. Personally I believe that our loftiest desires come from God (or whatever you choose to call that Higher Power) and that if you’ve got a desire within you then it must mean that you also have Divine ability to achieve it, so you owe it to your Divine self to build that ship and set sail!


Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. I know this, you know this, and now my dad definitely knows this. It’s so easy to get swallowed up in the day-to-day responsibilities and realities of life that before you know it you’re watching the sun set on the docks wondering where the time went. But there’s something about being faced with your own mortality or that of a loved one that has a way of reminding us of how fleeting time really is and of what life is truly about. 

Thankfully my dad is still here in the land of the living, and I’m headed home this weekend to check in on the old man. Of course I also plan to get in some serious time on my business goals,  catch up with dear friends, and eat some of my god-mother’s great cooking. Who knows? We may even go to the docks and see what comes ashore…


And what about you? You’ve got this life right now. What will you plan to do with the opportunities you have in front of you? Let me know in the comments. And remember, the only ships that come back are the ones that get sent out in the first place.

…and let me know if you need any company. I’m always up for a good sail.

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