Allison McWilliams: Planning for growth

Allison McWilliams is assistant vice president of mentoring and alumni personal and career development in the Office of Personal and Career Development.  She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU.  This is the third for the fall semester. In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.

Allison McWilliams

Mentoring is a strategic intervention. It is intentional, goal-oriented, and action-oriented; the mentee is always working on getting from some current reality to an identified future state. Of course, students don’t think about mentoring in these ways. They’re just looking for someone to help them figure things out, to give them the right answers, to get the A. But life doesn’t work that way. There are no right answers for creating a meaningful life. There are no grading rubrics, no A’s given out in life. It’s up to each of us to figure out how to navigate that uncertainty, to let life happen to us or to build an intentional life.

The good news is that helping students to create and own goals and action plans for their growth actually helps them to acquire the tools that they need to do this work for life. As mentors, we help students to acquire higher-order critical thinking skills by pushing them to set goals, create plans, and to work towards achieving those goals and plans.

Effective goal statements, whether personal or professional, use the SMART goal model: they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Oriented. An example of a great SMART goal statement is: Build connections with three faculty members outside of my intended major by the end of the fall semester. Once this goal statement has been created, then the student can develop 2-3 action steps to achieve that goal, again following the SMART model.

Setting goals for mentoring relationships helps us to do several critical things:

  • They help to define expectations between mentoring partners.
  • They help to define success for the relationship.
  • They provide a framework both for the conversations and for the work that is to be done.

But as a bonus, setting goals helps students to acquire skills of critical thinking, decision-making and problem-solving, and strategic planning, which they will use for life. Setting goals forces the student to take ownership for his or her personal growth. And it is yet another opportunity for learning. As John Maxwell has noted, “the greatest achievers in life are people who set goals for themselves and then work hard to reach them. What they get by reaching the goals is not nearly as important as what they become by reaching them.”