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Setting Smart Objectives

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

Objectives set out what you as a school leader are trying to achieve. When writing a Personal development plan for yourself (PDP) or your school development plan (SDP), you must ensure that the development objectives are carefully planned, concise and achievable.

Although a well- constructed objective does not necessarily guarantee that it will be achieved, it is a good start, because it has key aspects that stimulate you to make sure it happens.

A very popular acronym used to describe the key aspects of a good objective is ‘SMART’, meaning:

You must have clear and measurable indicators because they define the success of the initiative. Achievable and realistic objectives engage and motivate individuals. When your objectives look unrealistic, you put yourself and others under immense pressure. This can have a knock-on effect on people’s level of commitment or ability to meet them. It is important to have clear time indicators so that everyone knows by when an objective has to be achieved – or, if it is not likely to be achieved, whether to put in place measures to address any mitigating issues.

Now, look at some key action verbs that can help in constructing SMART objectives.



If the objectives are specific, clear, and understood by everyone associated with the processes there are better chances of their successful implementation.

To be specific, an objective should:

  • Have a description of a precise or specific behaviour, achievement or outcome.

  • It is also helpful if it can be related to a percentage, frequency, rate or number.

  • To increase specificity, use verbs that are action-orientated to describe those actions that need to be taken to fulfill the objective(s).

Action verbs include ‘create’, ‘develop’, ‘design’, ‘analyse’, ‘execute’, ‘change’, ‘modify’, ‘identity’ and ‘prepare’.


Ensuring that your objective is measurable is hugely important because it tells you whether you have achieved your objective or not. You will gather evidence through a data collection instrument (observing, tracking and recording behaviours, asking questions, etc.) or using a predefined system or procedure in your school as required by the state authority. The tool you use to measure your objective should help you to generate the required evidence to support your claims of success. You should consider the following questions:

  • How will I know that the change has occurred?

  • How can these measurements be obtained?


An objective is achievable if:

  • you know it is measurable and you can gather evidence of its impact.

  • others have already done it, meaning that, in principle, it is possible to achieve.

  • any limitations and constraints have been carefully considered.

It is not worth setting an objective that relies heavily on resources that are not readily available or may be difficult to obtain in the future. It is a risk that has to be carefully managed if the target is to be achieved.


The realistic aspect of your objective is closely linked to whether it is achievable or not. While objectives should be realistic, this does not mean that they need to be easy. Objectives can be set that are demanding, but not to the extent that the chance of success is small. Realistic objectives take into account the available resources, such as skills required, financial resources, equipment, technology and so on.

You should consider whether:

  • it is possible to achieve the objective

  • the resources to achieve the objective are available.


Timely (or time-bound)

Allocating a deadline to an objective is closely linked to ensuring that it is measurable. Because you will be collecting evidence at a specified time to ascertain whether you have met the objective, you must specify when you expect the objective to be achieved. A deadline also helps to create the necessary urgency, prompts action and focuses the minds of those who are accountable.


About the Author

Dr. Atul Nischal is the Founder of the International Council for School Leadership (ICSL) and serves as the Program Director of ReSET, the 3 week online certificate program for educators.


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