Thursday, October 20, 2011

Setting Goals

In a lot of ways, goals to effect change are what this blog is about.  In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, "Be the change you want to see in the world".  If I'm writing well enough, and making my points effectively, there are teachers out there (at least one?  maybe?)  who have set goals for themselves based on the challenges I put forth.  Goalsetting can be a useful strategy in every aspect of life.

It's been almost a decade since my school district moved away from the traditional annual teacher observation to the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) model which begins with a SMART goal.  (If you are unfamiliar with SMART goals, please check out this SlideShare by Elona Hartjes.  This is what I used to present the concept to my eighth graders.)

When SMART goals were first introduced to us, it seemed to make a lot of sense -- a lot more so than putting on a dog and pony show once a year (although one of the highest compliments I ever received from a student was that I didn't act "different" on observation day).  SMART goals seemed a very common-sense and effective way to plan for and measure change.  As the years passed, I often wondered what was wrong with me that I could not write an acceptable SMART goal.  I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person (feel free to disagree) and I would say the same for my colleagues.  But being sent back to the drawing board umpteen times, or having an administrator just plain rewrite it for me becomes demoralizing after a while.  It was as if adminstration found a sound theory in SMART goals, but decided to sharpen it to a fine point and stab their teachers to death with it.

So out of frustration I was pretty down on the whole SMART goal concept for awhile.  This year, with the self-pacing I'm doing with my students, I realized very quickly that I needed to hand over the reins (see my post on Control ) and instead of giving them each their tasks at the start of class each day, they should be setting their own goals, and telling me their daily plan.

Easier said than done.  Experience (read:  prior bad judgment) has taught me not to approach something like this without first training students.  "Ok class, write a goal" will likely result in responses from "IDK" to "sleep" to "beat level 15 on Angry Birds".  So I started researching goal-setting with students.  You guessed it -- SMART goals were the basis of virtually every example I looked at, and with good reason.  So, after yers of moaning and complaining, I slapped a Band-Aid on my bruised ego (being stabbed to death might have been an exaggeration...) and got to work.  I showed my students Hartjes's SlideShar, and walked them through the goalsetting process using a website called Goalbook.  (fantastic site -- definitely worth checking out!)  They completed their first goals yesterday, and I was impressed.  Some of their metacognition was surprisingly insightful, and I think they were pleased at being given an additional measure of control over their learning.

So my challenge to you is a double-edged goalsetting challenge:  Set a goal for youself to teach your students how to set their own learning goals -- for one topic, one unit, one project, even one class period.  Let me know how it goes!

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