Student working at laptop

When I taught elementary school, it was fascinating to see how students approached their learning goals. Some kids looked at their work with a laser pointer, focusing intently on a specific target. Others approached it through a flood light, navigating the different opportunities that came into view.

Each method has its gifts. As a teacher, however, it could be challenging to understand the differences, especially when we may naturally prefer one approach over another. After gaining insights from Emergenetics®, I know why these differences, and others, exist in setting goals. More importantly, I’ve also learned how to coach students to lean into their brilliances and stretch to achieve even more.

As you help youth set learning goals, I encourage you to apply the Emergenetics Attributes. Review your students’ Youth Reports or reflect on their tendencies as you use the tips below to support them through their strengths and coach them to take on new challenges.

Convergent thinking iconConvergent Thinking (Analytical and Structural preferences)

Convergent thinkers tend to appreciate a research-based approach to implementation. They may enjoy identifying an efficient timeline and logical, step-by-step benchmarks to reach their goals.

Coaching tip for the teacher: When setting targets, individuals with a preference for Convergent thinking may feel more supported when you allow space for clarifying questions and systematize the approach.

Coaching tip for the student: To help youth stretch beyond their Convergent preferences, encourage them to identify a unique goal that they may never have considered before.

Divergent Thinking (Social and Conceptual preferences)

Individuals who prefer Divergent thinking may imagine the future as they consider their intentions. They are also likely to seek the opinions of others as they ideate on the possibilities they could focus on.

Coaching tip for the teacher: Allow space for your students to brainstorm, connect with others and share ideas as they identify a direction.

Coaching tip for the student: Help your Divergent thinkers stretch by coaching them to sift through the possibilities and land on a direction.

Abstract Thinking iconAbstract Thinking (Analytical and Conceptual preferences)

Youth with this thinking combination often gravitate toward targets where they have an opportunity to become an expert in a unique concept. They may be motivated when they can tether their big idea to logic and efficiency.

Coaching tip for the teacher: Engage Abstract thinkers in goal setting by allowing time for students to present and share their knowledge.

Coaching tip for the student: Support the growth of individuals who prefer Abstract thinking by helping them consider how their targets impact others.

Concrete thinking iconConcrete Thinking (Structural and Social preferences)

Students with a preference for Concrete thinking likely enjoy implementing plans with others. When you provide sample goals and give them time to connect with classmates, they can set practical and meaningful targets.

Coaching tip for the teacher: To engage Concrete thinkers, determine specific times when kids can check in with you to discuss their progress toward goal completion.

Coaching tip for the student: Help youth consider new perspectives by offering support in tying their targets to research.

Image of a quadramodal thinking preferenceCommittee Brains (preferences in three or four Attributes)

Individuals who have three or more preferred Thinking Attributes may need to satisfy each preference before deciding on a direction. You may even hear them asking questions through the lens of each Attribute as they process their thoughts! Listen for questions that are tied to why (for Analytical), how (for Structural), who (for Social) and what if (for Conceptual).

Coaching tip for the teacher: To motivate committee brains, help youth find an answer to each of the Thinking Attributes’ burning questions.

Coaching tip for the student: You can support your students’ development by helping them deliberate and land on a decision.

Expressiveness iconExpressiveness is defined as the outward display of thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Students with a preference for first-third Expressiveness often prefer to internally process goals, while those in the third-third may prefer to process externally.

Coaching tip for the teacher: Include quiet time for individual thought as well as time for discussion with a partner to support youth across the Expressiveness spectrum.

Coaching tip for the student: By engaging in the exercise above, your class will have an opportunity to stretch into different preferences.

Assertiveness refers to the pace and style with which you advance thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

Those in the first-third may prefer to chip away at the target over time using a calm, steady approach, while those in the third-third may be energized by a time crunch, using a direct style.

Coaching tip for the teacher: Be mindful of your students’ preferred approach as you set deadlines, knowing that some will enjoy waiting until just before the due date.

Coaching tip for the student: Support youth with a first-third preference by asking questions to help them clarify their opinions about their learning goals. For kids with third-third preferences, help them experience a different pace by encouraging them to set a timeline of milestones.

Flexibility iconFlexibility helps us understand our willingness to accommodate the thoughts and actions of others.

Flexibility is where that laser pointer analogy comes to life. In the first-third, students often make a decision and see it through to fruition. Those in the third-third may make lots of adjustments along the way as other opportunities come up.

Coaching tip for the teacher: Identify loose and tight expectations around goal setting so youth know what is firm and where there is wiggle room.

Coaching tip for the student: Help kids with first-third preferences recognize changing circumstances and make adjustments to accommodate them. For youth in the third-third, help them land on their targets and maintain focus.

It may take some practice before your students feel confident identifying learning goals and flexing outside of their tendencies, so I encourage you to regularly use the activity below to make goal setting a habit.

Setting Intentions Activity

When you start your day, ask students to consider the Attributes and define one goal for that class. If you are in person, have your class write down their individual intentions and post them on their desk in a visible location or move a clothespin to their chosen intention on a poster in the room. For virtual classrooms, have students post their intention on a virtual whiteboard or in the chat feature.

Depending on the day, you can encourage kids to set intentions inside or outside of their preferences to help them lean into their strengths or stretch for growth. It can be helpful to start by providing a collection of intentions for your students to choose from. Below are a few ideas that consider each Attribute:


  • Ask “why?”
  • Be data-driven
  • Ensure objectives are met


  • Ask “how?”
  • Be thorough
  • Establish timelines


  • Ask “who?”
  • Be empathetic
  • Encourage collaboration


  • Ask “what if?”
  • Be visionary
  • Explore possibilities


  • Think through my words before speaking
  • Raise my hand first


  • Take a steady approach
  • Move quickly


  • Stay focused
  • Suggest alternatives

It’s so important to have targets to reach. They keep students grounded, focused on why they are doing their work and committed to the possibilities that come from achieving goals. By helping youth to create meaningful targets and daily intentions, you can get them in the habit of productive goal setting, which will help them at any point in their lives.

Want to set meaningful targets for your staff or students? Learn more about goal setting with our latest guide.

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