Goals – is there more to them than meets the eye?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading lately around goals, clarity, progressions and all things education. In my new role(s) as part-time PLD facilitator focusing on Leadership and Assessment part-time HPSS teacher + leader of assessment + leader of the performing arts area (this role is not new but the part-time part is), and part-time – who knows when I’m going to find the time – Sheilah Winn Shakespeare festival organiser, director, Stage Challenge co-ordinator, Classical Studies trip co-organiser… But I digress.

Goals

Goals are one of those things that we think that we need to do but I’m not sure how well-used they are in classrooms. Schools set goals, teachers set goals, teachers get students to set goals / co-construct goals, students set goals for themselves that they don’t share with us.

Personally I’ve been really unsatisfied with SMART goals for a long time. It took me a while to really put my finger on it. Locke and Latham’s seminal 2006 article on goals clearly define the differences between performance and learning goals. When reading this article I had an ‘aha!’ moment reading “a learning goal facilitates or enhances metacognition—namely, planning, monitoring, and evaluating progress toward goal attainment” – learning goals focus on the strategies needed for success whereas performance goals focus on the outcomes. SMART goals could be used to support learning goals but the lack of focus on the how (strategies, dispositions, skills) means than they may limit attainment of the goal.

I was re-reading Viviane Robinson’s Student-Centred Leadership on the plane yesterday and her comments about when to use SMART goals and when to use learning goals. More and more the puzzle pieces are falling into place.

“At one level, setting SMART goals makes sense because people cannot regulate their performance if they are unclear about how to assess their progress… At another level, there are occasions when the call to set SMART goals is inappropriate. In order to set a SMART goal, you have to know quite a lot about how to achieve it. When goals involve new challenges, how can you possibly know if it is achievable, if it is realistic, and how long it will take you to achieve it (Seddon, 2008)? In the absence of such knowledge, it may be better to set a learning goal or a broader performance goal that expresses your shared commitments and helps keep you focused”

Student-Centred Leadership, Kindle version, Location 1100

Surely, we are wanting to get our students to be considering new challenges – why are we encouraging them to put constraints around their goals because we think that performative goals are better / easier / they way, truth and the light? I believe that the needs must be addressed before there is goal setting. If the situation requires something that needs to be achieved (an outcome), sure go ahead, be SMART. However, if there is more at stake (and I would like to imagine that there is) a learning goal is a much better fit.

So timing is important. In preparation for playing the role of the “devil’s advocate” (yes that is an actual role one gets to play, it has a cool badge / picture thing and everything) on tonight’s #edchatNZ chat hosted by my lovely colleague and friend Danielle Myburgh (@missDtheTeacher), I was thinking about some provocative questions / statements which I could challenge teachers with. Here are some (n.b. I only used one or two as I was trying to respond to people’s statements):

  • What is the point of deciding on “measurable” goals when dealing with innovation and change? Multiple measurements should evolve, shouldn’t they?
  • Goal setting, with goal follow through, clear strategies and accountability, is meaningless. How much time do you dedicate to work with your students on follow through? What about your own goals? Your colleagues?
  • how do your students’ individual goals impact their day to day experiences in your classroom?
  • How much alignment is there between your students’, staff and school’s strategic goals?
  • What checks and balances do you have to robust critique of goals? Yours, your students, or your colleagues goals?
  • What is the point of goal setting if the goals are not enacted? Need to be coupled with frequent checking in and feedback/feedforward, what does this look like in your practice?
  • Have your students been setting goals this year? Why? What evidence or research is underpinning your practice?

 

I guess from the feedback, aspects of my devil’s advocate role resonated with some. Personally, I felt that I was a bit slow and (as always) struggled with 140 characters.

Twitter chat extract

I do believe in making the learning visible – using learning intentions which clearly show what we are learning, why we are learning and how we are learning is the key. The harder part of me is to relate this to each individual I’m teaching, be it in hubs, modules, my times or big projects.

On Monday, I will be starting working with my HPSS learning hub around their goals. I’ve got a couple of approaches to consider. I could just bowl in “Goal Setting” and support the students to make some learning goals through co-construction with me and each other, rather than performance ones, with clear check points for progress and keen understanding of what success of the goals may look like. This is what we did last year, however I felt that some students were occasionally complying with me because they are all decent people who trusted me enough that this was a good idea. We made the goals visible in our hub, we reflected on progress but I’m not convinced that there were enough deliberate acts to improve their learning goals. Not trying to make excuses but some things did get lost in the busyness of starting a new school last year.

However, the questions I was challenging myself to come up with to challenge others are now challenging me. What evidence will students be using to inform their goals? Is now the right time? How can I align my own goals for this year (which I have yet to formulate) to those of my hub? How can I best support my students in this highly personalised environment without resorting to following the “letter” of goal setting, rather than the “spirit”?

Over the weekend I’m going to keep pondering this and if I come up with something better, I’ll blog about it (promise).

 

Learning to learn: Herrmann’s Brain

I wrote this blog post late last year, left it in draft because I wanted to add something but couldn’t recall, so here it is – a little out of date but still very relevant to my thinking right now…

Understanding yourself as a learner is a key to success. Knowing when and how to apply different modes of thinking to different situations is a learned skill. At Hobsonville Point Secondary School, one of the focuses of our hub curriculum this term is around building the students’ capacity to understand themselves as learners. We are using a variation of Ned Herrmann’s Whole Brain model as a means of unpacking the students’ learning preferences. While we had introduced the students to the model earlier last year, it was definitely time to come back and delve a little deeper.  In term 4, students across the school were empowered with some understanding of the parts of the brain, what they do and how this may link to our learning preferences.  This was a bit of a stretch for me to prepare for the learning coaches to use as I had to make sure that my understanding was deep enough it so I could translate it for others to use. Using terms like ‘limbic system’, ‘cerebral cortex’ and ‘corpus callosum’ is far removed from my drama/classics teaching experience so I was thankful for one of our biology teachers looking over the presentation beforehand.

When I presented the science of the brain to the students in my learning community, Taheretikitiki,  and I was astounded by the questions that they were asking (here are a few) – many of which I didn’t have the answers for:

  • can we combine our thinking quadrants to use them together?
  • can we learn to think in each mode?
  • what part of the brain covers addition or bad behaviour?
  • What happens when one part of the brain doesn’t work anymore?
  • Can we tie autism to the parts of the brain?

We talked through the whole brain model and the brain for about 40 minutes. I love that the students in my learning community are hooked on knowing and understanding more. One of the focuses of our school is on empowering students and I think that understanding how they think and how the brain works is essential – there were so many students hanging back during their break to ask more questions. In our community we built on the thinking quadrants in our extended hub community time. The students had to refamiliarise themselves with the quadrants, but this time focus on the common attributes of each thinking mode, expectations held by people when that mode is their preference, and what each quadrant struggles with. There was a cut and paste collaborative activity to get the students used to using the language of the quadrants, their descriptors, strengths when using that mode of thinking, as well as what each quadrant struggles with. Then the learning coaches offered a different activity for each of the thinking quadrants.

The catch… we had to plan an activity which would challenge us to work with our least preferred thinking quadrant. Steve worked with  the strategic quadrant (green), Bryce worked with the innovative quadrant (yellow), Danielle with the red quadrant (relational) and I had the blue quadrant (thinking). I found this really challenging. As a learner. For me, the whole point of the preferences is that this mode of thinking is not what I would normally be drawn to. So I had to really think about what types of things I wanted the students to engage with – being analytical by dealing the specific information in a logical manner. Making connections between ideas to draw some kind of conclusion. I thought about it all weekend. And it was only on Sunday night that I decided to use some ponderous riddles for the students to analyse facts to come up with an evidence based conclusion. Upon reflection, I realised that this activity was really successful. Thankfully, the feedback from the coaches involved was also positive. Each of us had to work outside of our comfort-zones, which is always unnerving – and I was so thrilled to see the students actively engaging with some different modes of thinking. Our coaches’ debrief included us noticing how some students used different strategies to deal with the problem presented, the Hobsonville Habits that we could see visibly in their learning, and the types of questions asked.

So where to next?

The new year has arrived and my role at HPSS is slightly different this year, as I am not leading Taheretikitiki community due to my secondment. However, I still want to consider how to empower the students to understand themselves as learners, to move beyond their preferences and to make this aspect of thinking more visible in the school. I’m working my way through Ned Herrmann’s Whole Brain Business book and while the context tailored to the corporate world, as indicated by the title, I’m busy transferring to what it looks like in the classroom /school context. I’m excited about the communication and creativity sections – lots of scope there to tie into growth mindsets and Hobsonville Habits.

Professional reading February 2015

This is what I am currently wading through / have recently read/ re-reading old favourites. Lots of this is to do with the PLD leadership and assessment contract that I’m lucky enough to be facilitating this year or part of my leadership role at HPSS.

Clarity in the classroom by Michael Absolum
Formative assessment in the secondary classroom by Shirley Clarke
Weaving Evidence, inquiry and standards to build better schools ed. By Helen Timperley and Judy Parr
Student-centred leadership by Viviane Robinson
Problem-based methodology by Vivane Robinson
Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence synthesis
Lead with Wisdom by Mark Strom
Theory in Practice: improving professional effectivenessh by Chris Argyris and Donald Schön
Assessment for Learning: putting it into practice by Paul Black, Christine Harrison, Clare Lee, Bethan Marshall, Dylan Wiliam

I love seeing the overlap between these texts. Will blog more shortly.