Tips for Writing Social Emotional IEP Goals & 10 Example Goals

Probably one of the most daunting parts of being a new school social worker is writing IEP evaluations and goals. While some school districts have templates available, most do not. Here are 10 of the most common social emotional goals for an IEP and how to write your own goals.

"Set Goals" written on a sticky note.

Tip #1: Be SMART

One of the biggest issues I’ve found with goals that have been written by previous providers is the goal is missing some part of the Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely (SMART) goal format. Here’s how I would make sure my goals are SMART:

  • Specific: Often I will see social emotional goals that are written for all settings of a students day. But a student’s skills can look very different in physical education compared to the general education classroom compared to transition times (i.e. passing periods). Outlining when/ where and how in the goal can be very helpful. It’s also helpful to make the goal as objective (versus subjective) as possible. So, instead of saying “will appear more happy,” write, “is able to identify three emotions and describe situations which could cause each emotion.”
  • Measurable: This can be difficult when you are talking about “soft skills”. However, if you have a rubric or your goals are written based on frequency, measuring the goals becomes a lot easier.
  • Achievable: Make it possible (but difficult) for the student to reach the goal. If your baseline is “1/10 opportunities,” the student likely isn’t going to get to 9/10 opportunities in the next year. Also, remember that it is highly unlikely for any student to do anything perfectly 100% of the time.
  • Relevant: This is the part where you can explain (very briefly) why the student needs the goal. Is it to increase a specific skill or in order to make friends, or to attend to classroom instruction? The reasons behind why a student might need a goal can be lengthy, so adding a phrase to the goal with more information in the present levels of performance or elsewhere in the IEP would be ideal.
  • Timely: This is the other element that is often missing from social emotional goals. When is the student expected to achieve this goal? Typically, this is by the next annual review for IEP goals but stating the timeline is important. You will also want to take into consideration how much time would give you the best information for progress monitoring.

Tip #2: Collaborate

Mental health providers are the experts on social emotional goals, but that doesn’t mean they have to be the only one progress monitoring or providing input. Classroom teachers, other special education providers, and paras can all be helpful thought partners when developing a social emotional goal and can serve as data trackers for progress monitoring.

Sometimes there can be a little bit of confusion around who is monitoring a specific goal, especially when it is a self-determination goal or a time on task sort of goal. Identifying who is responsible for monitoring the goal at the start of the year can be helpful to avoid any confusion.

Collaborate with other mental health providers in the building if you have them! At the high school, I was one of three mental health providers. We each ran groups during a specific period of the day, but our caseload was by last name. I had kids in my groups that were on the psychologists’ caseload and vice versa- so I was able to progress monitor for some of their students as they were for mine.

Tip #3: Consider the Setting

As I mentioned above, you want to make it specific to the student’s environment. Depending on the student’s skills and the expectations across environments, they may have difficulty during one part of the day but be able to execute the skill in a different part of the day.

For example, for a student who has difficulty with organization in the general education classroom, they may exhibit no concerns during a class like physical education. This is why it is important to not expect the student to meet the goal 100% of the time.

Many mental health providers outline their goals to be “during small group instruction” or “in sessions with the mental health provider”. While this is a very specific setting, it doesn’t show that the student can generalize the skill outside of the mental health provider’s office.

You’ll want to be aware of the setting for developing a social emotional goal that is appropriate for the individual student.

Basic Template for Social Emotional Goals on an IEP

Here are two basic templates I follow to develop social emotional goals while accounting for all of the above information.

Template 1: By (date), Student will be able to (skill) from a (baseline number) to a (target number) on the SEL Scoring Rubric as measured by (data collection method) in order to (relevance/ reason for the goal).

Example of Template 1: By November 2023, Tommy will be able to describe and demonstrate ways to express emotion in a socially acceptable manner from a 3 to a 4 on the SEL Scoring Rubric as measured by mental health provider observation, in order to decrease his feelings of isolation.

Template 2: By the next annual review, in order to (relevance/ reason for the goal), Student will increase (desired behavior) from a (baseline) to a (target number) as measured by (data collection method).

Example of Template 2: By the next annual review, in order to participate in the general education classroom, Tiana will increase her time on-task of non-preferred tasks from two minutes to five minutes as measured by classroom teacher and mental health provider observation.

Example IEP Social Emotional Goals

The goal templates I use are broken down by Social Emotional Learning competency. Here are a sample few from each competency:

Social Awareness Social Emotional Goals

  • By April 2024, Eddie will use conversation skills to understand others’ feelings and perspectives from a 1 (limited responses) to a 2 (after modeling, Eddie can repeat the skill) on the SEL Scoring Rubric.
  • By November 2023, Casey will be able to describe and demonstrate ways to express empathy for others from a 1 (limited responses) to a 2 (after modeling, Casey can repeat the skill) on the SEL Scoring Rubric.

Self-Awareness Social Emotional Goals

  • By May 2025, Leah will be able to recognize and accurately label emotions (e.g. happy, sad), whether real or depicted, from a 4 (demonstrates frequently) to a 5 (demonstrates consistently) on the SEL Scoring Rubric.
  • By October 2027, Bella will be able to analyze how personal qualities influence choices and successes from a 1 (only able to demonstrate with adult prompting) to a 3 (independently practices skill) performance benchmark.

Self-Management Social Emotional Goals

  • By August 2023, Marcus will be able to identify family, peer, school and community strengths and explain how they can support school success and responsible behavior from a 1 (does not exhibit skill) to a 3 (able to repeat the skill in a small group setting).

Decision Making Social Emotional Goals

  • By March 2024, Angel will be able to identify and apply the steps of systematic decision making using the STOP (Space, Time, Objects, People) strategy with a maximum of one adult prompt from 2 out of 5 occurrences to 4 out of 5 occurrences.

Relationship Skills Social Emotional Goals

  • By next annual review, Elizabeth will respond to a social greeting by a peer (saying hi back, thank you/you’re welcome) consistently in 3 out of 4 opportunities.
  • By January 2023, Andrew will be able to identify and apply constructive approaches to resolving conflicts in 3 out of 4 opportunities as measured by staff data collection and office referrals.

Flexible Thinking Social Emotional Goals

  • Chase will be able to analyze how decision making skills improve study habits and academic performance from a 4 (adult prompt) to a 6 (uses skill sometimes in novel situations) on the SEL Scoring Rubric by February 2026.
  • By September 2028, Andrea will be able to take into account situational factors that suggest a need to adjust a plan of action in 4 out of 5 opportunities.

Additional Examples/ Information

Here are some additional sites for more examples of social emotional goals on IEPs.

TeachTastic Goals for On-task Behaviors

Redmond, OR Goal Bank

100+ Examples of Social Emotional Goals

Sonoma County SEL Goal Bank

Littleton Public Schools Scoring Rubric

The School Psych Toolbox

Leave a Comment