Much has been written about goal setting as it relates to scholastic achievement, and nobody understands the importance of students setting academic goals better than their educators. John Hattie’s research shows us that when students set goals for their learning, learning increases (Hattie, 2019); it is the same for teachers. Each year, teachers feel the pressure of choosing professional goals that may be linked to their yearly evaluations, but how do we, as educators, set student-centered goals that will increase both student achievement and our own professional skills?
First, choose an area of growth for yourself and your classroom. When thinking about areas of improvement, keep it focused on aspects that affect student achievement. You should be looking for growth opportunities that translate easily into specific goals that will have the most direct impact on your students.
- Developing a system for students to track their learning
- Engaging students in discussions during whole-group reading
- Ensuring students follow rules or procedures during a specific time
All of these examples are specific and might significantly influence student learning in a way that could be measured using student data. Conversely, you’ll want to avoid statement goals that are too broad or vague to measure, such as “being more organized” or “developing better lessons.” No one would argue that organization and excellent lesson planning aren’t important, but how would you determine if these goals are being met?
Let’s say a teacher at an elementary school recognized that reading center time was an important part of her class’s day and also realized this could be an area of growth for her. The teacher knew her students enjoyed center time, which also allowed her to work with all her students in a small group setting, but she wanted to implement centers that would give her students time for practicing skills as well. She developed her goal to specifically look at activities that would give students more practice, which aligns with a teaching requirement for her formal observation: Her center time would give her students opportunities to receive immediate feedback.
The teacher developed her goal around the six steps Kelly Harmon and Dr. Marzano recommend in their book, Practicing Skills, Strategies, and Processes: Classroom Techniques to Help Students Develop Proficiency:
- Step 1. The teacher models the procedural knowledge.
- Step 2. The teacher guides students as they work to replicate the teacher’s model.
- Step 3. The teacher monitors students and corrects any errors they make. She will provide additional opportunities to repeat the execution of the skill in more frequent structured practice sessions.
- Step 4. As students become more proficient, the teacher provides varied opportunities for students to combine discrete skills or strategy steps together into more complex processes such as writing an essay or editing one’s own work.
- Step 5. Students engage in independent practice to build fluency for skills that need automaticity, such as skilled reading, or to enhance their controlled processing, which requires students to combine various skills at a more conscious level.
- Step 6. Students reflect on their practice. (Harmon & Marzano, 2015)
It’s important to predetermine what student data will be collected to decide if the goal is being met. Remember that the end goal of teaching is for students to increase their learning. Therefore, the chosen data should show how effective teaching increases student achievement. The teacher above decided to gauge the effectiveness of her centers by looking at two different data points: grade-level common assessments and group-based DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills). The teacher let data drive her instruction in the areas her class needed the most help with. Doing this, the teacher not only improved her instruction but also enabled her students to become stronger learners.
Keep in mind that reaching a goal can be difficult, and it usually requires stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. Typically, our growth areas won’t come naturally to us; we have not had enough experience with or exposure to it.
When choosing your area of growth, look at your school’s teaching framework or expectations. These may help you determine your goal. Also, make sure it can be attainable. Many places use the SMART goal format, but the format doesn’t matter—making sure the goal is measurable, attainable, and timely is what’s important. Meeting goals can be very fulfilling professionally and personally. What better goals to meet as educators than those that also affect student achievement?
Harmon, K., & Marzano, R. J. (2015). Practicing skills, strategies & processes: Classroom techniques to help students develop proficiency. Learning Sciences International.
Hattie, J. (2019). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.
Timothy Daugherty, MS, is a K–5 instructional coach at a rural school in Culver, Indiana. Tim is an active contributor to Keep Indiana Learning and Avanti. He is certified as a High Reliability Teacher, Level 2. Tim lives with his wife and four children in Walkerton, Indiana.