Goals Inspire and Indicators Measure Progress
Goals are best, to use Jim Collins' term, if they are big, audacious, and hairy! They should come from the passionate center of those setting them. Teachers spend much of their time establishing the environment in which students can learn optimally. In that environment, they work with students who are present or not, learning or not, engaged or not. In the midst of the interplay among student, teacher, content and environment goals are established and are met or not. Teachers become advocates for the interventions that may allow the student to enter the road to success.
Those big, audacious, hairy goals are exciting...building an organization that aims to graduate ALL students and prepare them ALL for successful college and career experiences and to have ALL students walk across the graduation stage prepared as competent independent learners. Goals motivate. So, it is more accurate to call the measures used each year indicators, not goals. The indictors can change from year to year. Indicators provide intermediate measures along the way. So, beginning with the early announcements about expected successes, why not be more purposeful? Ask:
- What interferes with student successes in our school/district?
- How will we decide which of those factors we will address this year?
- Who will be involved in the decision?
- What research will support our choices?
- What will be the measures along the way that will reveal our progress?
- To whom will we be reporting these findings?
What if superintendents and principals reported to the public like our newscasters do? It would sound something like this:
This year's results look like they are going to surpass anything we have seen! Here's the data:
- Last month's attendance rates climbed.
- More students were involved in activities outside of their classrooms
- Parent attendance at school events has risen
- Homework has been so purposeful and targeted that completion rates have risen,
Therefore, we remain confident our end of year mastery rates will soar.
Setting up hopeful expectations, based upon factors that contribute to student success, can have the short-term potential of raising morale and contributing to a winning mindset. The media does it all the time...set expectations. This may be one lesson we can take from them.
It is good practice, if at the end of the year, we return to our predictions, reveal the progress and celebrate the successes. Instead, in education we tend to set goals at the beginning of the year, usually internally, and evaluate them based upon the results of tests, some standardized, some not, after the year ends. Both the analysis happens and the goal setting are internal and clandestine. For some, reporting during the following year about the data from a year past is required. That practice has some roots in what makes sense. After all, isn't a central responsibility of ours to educate students? And isn't it a central responsibility to be sure that they grow as learners? And doesn't it make sense to measure that in some way? So, after all, the goal setting and analysis of the results seems a responsible thing to do.
But, it shouldn't end there. So we return to the early announcement of the other factors we know make a difference in learning and question the kind of the goal setting that takes place each year. No matter the public's demand for numbers, it is our responsibility as educators to also educate the public about what is valued in student learning and how those attributes are developed. Noting the positive effect of hopeful mindsets, we wonder about rethinking the use of indicators each year and the reigniting of the power of goals. Isn't there value in the development of those behaviors we know contribute to improving student achievement and using them as the indicators? We think so.
In addition to the focus on new learning, integrating technology, standards and curriculum changes, and subject integration changes, we know what contributes to student learning. No matter the individual challenges of a school or district, we think these are some that all may have in common:
- Student safety and inclusion raises the question if ALL students feel safe and included
- The level of civility and respect that is modeled and expected
- How safe the faculty and students feel to speak out
- Attendance and absenteeism
- The manner in which challenges are met and supporting solutions are put in place
- The availability of academic and emotional support
These are all potential candidates for the development of indicators to be measured in a year's plan. None inspire. That is the role of the goals. But they do offer a purposeful path toward the ever-moving horizon of goals. Noting the progress through thoughtful analysis of the factors that may be interfering with success and seeing results...that can be inspiring.
Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.