The school year is beginning for many within a few days, and with it comes the excitement and anxiety of a new year and all its possibilities. For many of us in education, we spend countless hours considering the goals of our charges (whether they be students, teachers, community members, etc.), and much less time really thinking about our own personal goals. In fact, I would be willing to wager that for most of us, our own personal goal creation is fairly pitiful when compared to the goals we create or collaborate on with others. It’s not that we don’t want to further our own knowledge (heck, we’re born learners, after all), it is just that deep introspection takes lots of time, and in education, time is a commodity that is never in large enough supply.
Happily, I’m here to be your goal setting conscience. Since the school year never seems to slowly rev up, but rather always starts at full throttle, here are a few goal-setting rules to consider while you’re still at “coasting” speed.
1. Plan with parsimony. Ever heard of “Occam’s Razor?” In science, it is the idea that barring any reason not to, one should always consider the simplest hypothesis before those of a more complex nature. Why? “Simply” (sorry, couldn’t resist) because the greater the complexity, the greater the room for error and competing variables, all of which will make it tougher to tell whether the hypothesis has been verified or not. The same can be said for goal creation. Goals, whether personal or for stakeholders, should be simple enough for all to understand with no bias or room for misinterpretation. Considering how busy everyone’s lives are these days, goals must also be simple to pursue. Keep in mind that just because a goal is simple to understand and get started on, it need not be simple to achieve. Challenge is good. Goals that are too simple really aren’t goals. Some food for thought: If the creation of a goal takes longer than meeting the goal itself, than it isn’t a goal worth creating or achieving.
2. Get time on your side. Goals require a finite time span. In reality, time spans for goal completion should be mid-range in nature, providing for enough time to devise goal-meeting strategy and adequate reflection, but not so long that time lapse causes the goal to get buried by other initiatives or antiquated by the nature of today’s fast-paced world. So, a two-week goal? Likely too short a time period. A three-year goal? Not short enough. In fact, I would be willing to argue with anyone interested (I love a good debate) that a “one-year goal” is actually too long. Rather, goals can be appropriately timed by the structure of your building or district’s terms. Quarterly or semester-based goals are appropriate, whether they are your goals, your students, or your teachers.
3. Try triads. Goals can be stressful. Whether building benchmarks for yourself or for others, reaching new heights is anxiety producing. The more goals set, the higher the inherent anxiety, and the more likely some will fall by the wayside. Of course, if only one goal is set, it leaves little room for flexibility in goal achievement and can stifle collaboration and strength/weakness pairing. The human mind is an incredible tool, and it seems to work quite well with ideas grouped in threes. So, keep your goals to a triad to provide just the right amount of flexible thinking opportunities and positive stressors.
4. A final important rule is don’t set goals for others unless you plan to have a few set for yourself. So, without further ado, here are my professional goals for the next three months (I’ll look to report back by the end of November and let you know where I stand. . .remember, goal reporting and discussing is always key):
- Explore and then implement one new technology tool. I’m currently looking at Socrative (a handy-student response tool that works with “any” device; http://www.socrative.com/) and some handy Twitter SAP tools (http://www.sapweb20.com/blog/powerpoint-twitter-tools/). I’ll look into them in more detail and then try one of them out with the students or teachers I work with. If those tools don’t pan out, I’ll increase the social media exposure of the science program I work with by creating a Facebook page (our Twitter feed has been quite successful).
- Design and facilitate one new science education workshop. We always like to provide teachers with new offerings, and I’m looking to run a session on life science content for elementary science teachers and/or Next Generation Science Standard characteristics that teachers can begin implementing now (even while the document is in “draft” form).
- Complete our first grade audio book portfolio. I’m in the process of developing and recording audio books for our younger elementary curriculum. I’ve finished the kindergarten selections but haven’t been successful in keeping up with this project for first grade. Time to make it happen.
It is always helpful to have a “critical friend” handy who can look over your goals and discuss where you stand at the end of your time frame. My wife is an educator and is an excellent educational sounding board. In addition, my current supervisor has been an excellent source of encouragement and critical feedback.
As you ramp up from 0-60 (or 0-97 for our metric colleagues) in the next few days, make sure you’ve had the chance to put a few personal goals in place. That way, when the year ends in a few short months (and next summer will be here before you know it), you’ll be able to look back at not just another year going by, but just how much you’ve accomplished for yourself and your stakeholders.