Leadership & Goal Setting

Goal setting is an essential practice when coaching and engaging in Instructional Leadership. However, it can also be one of the most difficult practices to engage in. This is because goal setting can be laden with so many different past expectations, experiences and beliefs. What needs to happen to help make goal-setting a truly meaningful experience and practice?

First, it is my belief that leadership means starting where the teachers are at with their thinking, and helping them to reach their goals with their students. This is a collaborative professional development opportunity to help us all continue to grow in our practice. If we can co-construct effective goals for the learning processes with the students, then we will be better equipped to monitor student learning.

Goal setting can be a natural extension of meeting teachers where they are at, and helping them to have a voice-an essential part of the process for collaborating and improving student learning.

However, I find it can also be very difficult to co-construct goals sometimes. While it is not my role to make teachers set personal goals, I do believe in the importance of setting goals that promote student learning. However, goal-setting can become challenging, depending on the various beliefs, expectations or past-experiences with goal-setting.

The term ‘goal-setting’ is sometimes laden with many different messages, expectations or past experiences that have built up, and existed in the past. These expectations and past understandings can create an uncomfortable situation for teachers to engage in goal-setting. Particularly in math, where math anxiety has grown out of reinforcement of memorization and speed as the signs of a good mathematician.

What are some of the situations that we might be facing when it comes to goal setting? First, some may have an underlying belief that that goal setting occurs when someone is ineffective in their role, or hasn’t learned what they need to know to do their job. Some may also believe that their goals have to be based on what they think others expect of them, or may believe that they will be evaluated on their goal setting. Goal-setting to others may mean that their identity as a professional is at risk. Goal-setting may not lead to traditional definitions of what success should look like either. Further, if someone already does not feel much self-efficacy about teaching math, or any other subject, then they may truly not know where to start and feel vulnerable to find a goal that might be best for them or their students. Goal-setting might also just feel like an impossible task among the differing pressures around teachers, different personalities, or political climate. Finally, the pressure around math that has traditionally, and still continues to exist in math, has produced much fear and anxiety around math itself – let alone goal setting in math. Thinking about these issues can make the best of us feel like goal-setting is a very risky activity.

But I still believe we can work together successfully to overcome these challenges.

Therefore, it is an important leadership process to be able to meet someone where they are at and help them set goals for student learning, that are aligned with broader school and district goals – but that aren’t about pleasing someone else, or the powers that be. Building relationships is key. We can also help foster safety to help make it clear that goal setting is something we all need to do because our students are always changing and evolving each year, and knowledge is always changing and evolving in our world. Each situation will require different relationships.

I also think about the importance of modelling goal-setting for myself, and sharing my own goals with those I work with – and inviting help and feedback with those so we all can continue to meet the ever-changing needs of our students. Modelling our goal setting for others, and inviting them into the process, could be important for moving forward.

One of the goal areas that I am personally working on and thinking about, and will be articulating this year, is about is how to help develop student assessment abilities, especially how they can use assessment and feedback practices to truly understand themselves as learners. How can I focus my teaching cycles to help harness student assessment capabilities? What evidence will I gather for that? What will this look like in the classrooms I support? How will I center my teaching cycles in a way to harness student assessment?

Supporting goal setting is an important leadership activity for everyone. Goal setting really to become a tool that helps to build trust and common understandings. This is something that I will be thinking about deeply, and setting personal goals around, as we grow together throughout the school year. I hope to hear about others goal-setting practices and challenges, and perhaps even some stories that will help us all move forward together.

What are your own personal goals for your math programming this year – for yourself or your students?

What leadership stories do you have that can help shed light on goal-setting in math?

Deborah McCallum

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