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September 1, 2014
Vol. 72
No. 1

Principal Connection / Goals That Matter

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If we stick to goals that can be measured easily, we've missed an opportunity.

Each fall we set goals for the school year, and each spring we review what we've accomplished. Sadly, lots of discussions with educators give me the sense that this process isn't very helpful. Too often, the goals aren't particularly meaningful. But it doesn't have to be this way.
Yes, students need proficiency in the three Rs, and the Common Core state standards are becoming more common each day. We need to understand how students are faring in these areas so we know when to celebrate and when to work a little harder. But if we stick to goals that can be measured easily, we've missed an opportunity. Where does pedagogy fit in the goal-setting process, for example? We need goals that address student achievement, but teachers also need goals that focus on their teaching.
A pedagogical goal might be generic, such as increasing the amount of wait time that students are given before they offer a response. Or it could be to engender more small-group, student-led, discussions. Perhaps it focuses on how to use tablets in the classroom. What goals might evolve from asking, "What can you do to become a better teacher?"
In How Children Succeed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), Paul Tough maintains that it's students' noncognitive skills that make the difference in their success. What about focusing on the development of these qualities (character, moral development, effort, and work habits)? After all, a goal is a statement about values and priorities; our goals reflect our beliefs. By setting goals that deal with the most important qualities—Are our students becoming good people?—we send a powerful message to everyone, including our students. Think of the discussions that would emanate from determining how we define "good people" and how teachers could see progress in fostering "goodness" in our students.
Likewise, we know that faculty collegiality is a key factor in determining both teacher and student success, so shouldn't we set a collegiality goal? Practicing what we preach, these goals should be team goals, forged by colleagues. Developing a collegiality goal is a wonderful way to develop collegiality.
These goals do not lend themselves to quantitative measures, and that's OK. Simply asking teachers how they determine whether they've progressed toward a goal can be a growth opportunity. If we want to be sure that our teachers see their students as more than percentiles, we need to give them the opportunity to reflect on and present their own growth in qualitative ways.

Stretch, Grit, and Personal Goals

Three other kinds of goals can change thinking and behavior and increase the likelihood of success. Stretch goals aren't necessarily likely to be attained, but the process of pursuing them will be good for the individual and the organization. Titanic director James Cameron said, "If you set your goal ridiculously high and it's a failure, you will fail above everyone else's success." For years, my stretch goal has been for "New City School to be a worldwide leader in multiple intelligences implementation." We've been doing fine work with multiple intelligences for 25 years, but that's still a tall order. Nonetheless, pursuing that stretch goal yields good benefits for my school. Its grandiose nature encourages my wide thinking and risk taking.
Last year, I asked my faculty to set a grit goal. This wasn't a goal to develop grit in our students (although that's a good idea!). Rather, it was a goal on which they figured there was only a 50-50 chance for success. I want my teachers to try something new and get out of their comfort zones—and what better way to encourage this than by supporting the prospect of failure in their planning?
In September 2004, I wrote about personal/professional goals in this column, and my faculty has been setting them since then. These goals focus on private, personal issues that affect our professional performance. In August, each teacher writes his or her personal/professional goal on an index card and places it in a sealed envelope without sharing it. The sealed envelope is returned to the teacher in June. The confidentiality of this process encourages teachers to think candidly about themselves and to set a goal that can make a difference in their life and in their work. Teachers tell me that this is a meaningful process.

Following Up

Of course, setting goals is just a starting point. Progress toward goals must be monitored throughout the year. I don't do nearly as good a job at this as I should. In fact, one of my goals for the year is to do a better job of following up on everyone's goals, including my own. I've tried various strategies, including using a substitute teacher to cover classes so I can meet with teachers for 30-minute periods, and I've periodically sent e-mails to everyone, asking for updates. I've also used faculty meetings to have teachers with a common goal focus meet in groups and share what is working. How to follow up can vary widely; what's important is that one does follow up.
Finally, it's important for us principals to share some of our goals with our teachers. They need to know that we're working to improve too, and this gives a powerful window into our values. I make a point of sharing my goals, including my personal/professional goals, the kind that teachers are allowed to keep private. I want the faculty to know I take the process seriously.
P.S. In case you're wondering, my personal/professional goals are to be a better listener and to be more patient with myself and with others. Achieving these goals is not easy for me!
End Notes

1 Goodyear, D. (2009, October 26). Man of extremes. The New Yorker. Retrieved from www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/26/091026fa_fact_goodyear

Thomas R. Hoerr retired after leading the New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, for 34 years and is now the Emeritus Head of School. He teaches in the educational leadership program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and holds a PhD from Washington University in St. Louis.

Hoerr has written six other books—Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School, The Art of School Leadership, School Leadership for the Future, Fostering Grit, The Formative Five, Taking Social-Emotional Learning Schoolwide—and more than 160 articles, including "The Principal Connection" column in Educational Leadership.

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