The start of a new year is typically a time when most people set resolutions, or goals, for the year ahead. And as a program leader, you’re probably inspired to set a few goals for your after school program as well.

However, simply setting a goal is not enough. Whether your goal is to increase student participation or launch a new program initiative, the key to success is to apply the principles of SMART goal setting.

SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. While there are various interpretations of the acronym across the web, each variation provides a more strategic approach to goal setting.

Below we’ll walk through the five elements of SMART goals to help program leaders set goals that will ultimately grow their after school program:


Goals should be clear, well-defined and focused on a single outcome. Why? Experts believe that the clearer you are about your goal, the more motivated you will become to achieve it. For example, “Enroll 10 new students into the program by May” is more propelling than “increase student participation.” Goal setting starts with clarity and, in the words of Zig Ziglar: “A goal properly set is halfway there.”


Attach a target outcome to your goal for tracking purposes. In the example above, specifying the exact number of students you aim to enroll helps you measure progress and stay on track. The target can also be displayed in your office or program space to motivate you and program staff to stay focused on the desired results.


It’s great to dream big and aim for the stars. However, be mindful that the goal you set isn’t beyond reach. When setting a goal for your program, consider whether you have the budget, resources, staff, space, etc. available to support that goal. Setting unrealistic goals can delay your success or ultimately lead to failure.


Be sure that your goal aligns with your program’s missions and values. Does this goal further your program’s mission? Does it address an existing need in the community? Will accomplishing your goal benefit the students in your program? Whatever your goal, make sure it makes sense with the broader program goals.


As Napoleon Hill once said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Whether it’s tomorrow or a year from today, setting a realistic deadline for your goal gives you a clear target to work towards. More importantly, it fosters a sense of urgency to start taking action now. By setting a time frame, you can also outline tasks that need to be done and when in order to meet the target date.

Creating goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely is key to successful goal setting. It helps you take a more strategic approach to setting and accomplishing your goals. Use the SMART framework to improve your chances of succeeding in accomplishing your program goals and, as a result, grow your after school program.