The amount of change in the world over the last ten years has made many schools rethink and reconsider their course. In doing so, a number of schools are redefining their vision and plans for the future. This is one of the most difficult things to do especially for schools; I’ve seen many schools get stuck in a rut, with teachers and administrators complaining about how “we always talk but never act.”
I think the source of this difficulty stems from the fact that many schools (teachers and admins included) tend to be aspiriation-focused and not goal-focused. Many think of these two words as synonymous, but there is a significant difference that, if not parsed, can leave a school stagnant and wondering why.
Simply put: A goal requires specific steps in order to accomplish. It’s typically quantifiable and can be evaluated and revised within a timespan. An aspiration is much more general and incorporates an element of wishfulness.
A simple example would be something like this:
Aspiration: I will develop a more student-centered classroom.
Goal: I will begin class at least 3x per week with a student-led socratic discussion about the previous day’s topic.
To have a goal, there must be a clear, practical element that can be identified and evaluated by the goal-setter. There need to be steps that can be taken to realize the goal and the goal-setter must be able to decide if s/he has made progress in the pursuit of that goal.
To often in education, I see aspirations masquerading as goals. In these situations, I tend to often ask the person with whom I’m working to draw a picture of what this goal looks like in practice–if they can’t draw it, it’s likely because they have written an aspiration. Moving from that aspiration to a goal can be tricky for some educators; lately I’ve been trying a “What How When How” question series.
- What are you going to do?
- How are you going to do it?
- When will you know you’ve accomplished it?
- How will you know you’ve accomplished it?
If any of these questions don’t have an answer, then the goal needs to be revised. HOWEVER, it’s important to understand that aspirations aren’t bad. Aspirations are probably more important than goals, as they define who you are as an educator. It’s important to recognize the steps you need to take to be the educator you want to be. Simply wanting to be a student-centered teacher isn’t enough–it’s important to understand that, in order to become that teacher, steps will have to be taken and those steps will naturally take time away from other activities you might do with students. I tend to think that goals help teachers not feel as if they’re trying to do too much.
Hopefully, as teachers can break their work into attainable goals rather than nebulous aspirations, they actually feel as if they’re making more progress both with their students and as professionals.