Values and Goals: First Mental Health Initiative of the Year

By Elizabeth Trump
Coordinator of Mental Health and Wellness

This month, I have the pleasure of meeting with the students of the middle and upper schools to discuss our first Mental Health Initiative of the year: Values and Goals.  I met with Middle School this morning and will meet with the Upper School on September 24. Through these conversations, I also introduced the wellness skills of learning to identify areas of control, flexibility, and resiliency.  I want to share a summary of what was discussed and encourage you to continue this conversation at home. Students will have the opportunity to discuss this content in advisory groups as well.

At the beginning of the year, students and teachers set goals for what they want to learn or accomplish.  Establishing an intended outcome helps direct our choices and behaviors and also increases the likelihood that we reach a positive conclusion.  Goals certainly have their place in planning our behaviors for future outcomes. This morning, I introduced the idea of setting intentional values.  Goals are based on a particular outcome, keep us motivated toward the future, and often depend somewhat on the behaviors and choices of others. Goals are most powerful when they are specific and measurable.  Values, on the other hand, are more process-oriented, are not dependent on the behaviors of others, and most importantly allow us to appreciate our achievement and progress while still in process. One of the most powerful tools of setting a value is that it can guide behavior and decisions even when the outcome is not the most desirable.

Let’s explore an example.  A student may set a goal of receiving an “A” in a particular class.  This goal is achieved only at the end of the year and depends somewhat on how a teacher chooses to give and grade assignments and tests.  How does the student maintain the motivation toward that goal? How will the student feel at the end of the year, when despite his or her best efforts, a “B” or “C” is the final grade?

Consider, instead, a student who sets a value of working hard in a particular class, completing all assigned work or remaining engaged in the learning of that subject.  This identified outcome directs a student toward the best grade possible while encouraging the student to maintain progress each day or week throughout the year and to celebrate the accomplishment of knowing this day or week the value was upheld.  When a student applies the value of applying their best work to a subject and still receives a lower grade, a student can still feel satisfied knowing he or she acted in a way consistent with the intended outcome.

If you wish to continue this conversation with your student, consider discussing some of the following questions.  

  1. What hopes, dreams or goals do you have for this year?
  2. What can you do to make those things happen?
  3. How will you feel if those hopes come true and if they do not?  
  4. How can you change the language of your goals to focus more on the process of achieving them than on the outcome?

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Blue Namaste