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 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).



It’s like electricity…

This week we have been looking at our passions, why passions are important in education and what it means to be ‘in the zone’.

Wednesday morning started with a session from Maurie about educational change based on the Te Kotahitanga model of GPILSEO (Goals, Pedagogy, Institutions, Leadership, Spread, Evidence, Ownership). I found this really inspiring, especially how we as a staff are going to make sure that what happens at school reflects the vision of the school. I liked this model of leadership change as it addresses all parts of school – physical, institutional, leadership, staff and of course, students.


A snippet from ‘Billy Elliot’ was our starter for Thursday morning – looking at Billy’s audition where he explains how it feels to dance –

“what does it feel like when you’re dancing?
Billy: Don’t know. Sorta feels good. Sorta stiff and that, but once I get going… then I like, forget everything. And… sorta disappear. Sorta disappear. Like I feel a change in my whole body. And I’ve got this fire in my body. I’m just there. Flyin’ like a bird. Like electricity.”


… which got us onto talking about how we feel when we are in the zone. Lea’s task for us was to make a sculpture to explain how we feel when we are in the zone. Mine was a very small, coloured box – to reflect how insular I get when I am focused; I lose track of time, I don’t stop for anything, I can be easily startled… Interestingly while my sculpture was very small in scale and therefore quite different from many other peoples, the similarities about losing track of the outside world, not wanting to be interrupted or being so focused on what we were doing were clear.

I kept going with my professional reading of Ken Robinson’s The Element (see my thoughts here) and found this to be one of the most engaging texts I have stumbled upon for quite a while.  Our bookclub on Friday delved into this reading, with some brilliant insights, into the power of finding one’s passions as well as the need to ensure that we as teachers/ mentors allow students to discover and extend their passions. I loved Robinson’s description of the Element as a “meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion”  where people have “lives with purpose and meaning in and beyond what work we do” (p. 16). In so many ways, this sums up the front end of the NZC where the ultimate aim of education in New Zealand is stated in the vision as “young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners” (NZC, p. 7).

I took one thing in particular from reading The Element, that mentors (whoever they are) need to:

  • recognise
  • encourage
  • facilitate
  • stretch

As we are about to embark on our roles as LOLs this week, I thought that this was timely considering the role that I am going to play in developing the learning hubs at HPSS.

I engaged in my very first edchatnz session on Twitter on Thursday night. The topic was on personalised learning, which is to the forefront of my thinking at the moment, and I felt that I had something to say. I am sceptical by nature, especially of bandwaggoning online, and have been known to be scathing of twits on twitter. Having said this, I actually enjoyed the sense of community on the #edchatnz discussion. The more sceptical part of my brain was whispering in my ear the whole time “walk the talk, walk the talk” but overwhelmingly I was saddened by the number of people yet to jump wholeheartedly into the twittersphere who would be active, critical voices in this forum. Then my internet connection died, thanks for getting that fault sorted Vodafone, so I was forced to revert to being a normal person at home with my family on a Thursday night. I think I will try this #edchatnz thingee again though.  ****shamless plug, follow me on twitter @mrsmeganpete ***

On Friday, Di lead us through a brilliant session on pulling together all of our work using the ‘Julia Circles’ to try to refine our vision, principles and practice for HPSS. My brain was sore after this session, but pleasantly so.  Friday afternoon was personal time, unless we wanted to join in Claire’s ‘thinky tanky’ on digital citizenship (which I normally would except I wasn’t feeling that well), and I spent the time in a quiet spot in the school reading Changing the Odds by Bryan Goodwin (here). I am still working my way through this but have enjoyed the challenging tone of this reading – e.g. are we doing what matters?

Key understandings from this week:

  • Personal passions shape who we are, how we relate to ideas and what we value in life
  • It is easy to get suckered into the vacuum of educational ideas – an echo chamber of sorts. What is more difficult is thinking critically about the ideas, relating them to my interpretation of good pedagogy and having the guts to challenge not only myself but also other educators