Thursday / February 22

Set Goals With Teachers, Not for Them

Coaching is all about establishing effective partnerships that will enhance student performance. It is important for educators on every level within a district to understand the importance of proactive collaboration. From district administrators, to principals and teachers, to coaches and everyone in between, working together towards common goals is the ultimate pathway to student achievement.

Goal setting is the perfect time to activate positive partnerships. Setting goals together allows for both parties to communicate openly and sends a message that, as coaches, we are there to help teachers reach their goals for students. When we help teachers set goals that they feel are important, we honor the partnership.

This blog post illustrates the importance of setting goals with teachers, not for them, and how to approach tough goal-setting conversations.

Why Set Goals?

A well-crafted goal goes a long way in surfacing what teachers and coaches value. Creating a shared vision around “what we want our students to know” is what effective coaches seek when they identify goals with teachers. When a goal is missing, coaches are unfocused and unable to recognize progress. With a goal, coaches are more prepared to identify growth among students.

With, Not For

It’s never a good idea to set goals for teachers, even if we think we know what’s best for them. Goals are personal, and the ownership rests with whoever will be doing the work to get there. While this may seem obvious, we are often tempted to nudge teachers toward a goal that we think is important, especially when we see the teaching and learning close up. After spending time in a teacher’s classroom, we may be thinking, “I know the teacher wants to work on (fill in the blank). But we can’t do that until we get (fill in the blank) under control.” The temptation to redirect a teacher toward a goal that he or she hasn’t named may come from a sincere concern for students. But going there may jeopardize the coaching cycle that we are trying to get started and the partnership that will help succeed.

Know How to Reframe the Conversation

Goal-setting conversations aren’t necessarily straightforward or predictable. Sometimes the coach is handed a goal on a silver platter, and other times it feels like a conversation loaded with land mines. The teacher may express clear frustrations, but with no real direction in terms of goals. As the coach, we have to work to reframe the conversation in order to articulate goals that not only honors the concerns of the teacher, but takes it a step further.

Use the Standards and Set Goldilocks Goals

The standards anchor most of our coaching cycles. This is how we ensure that the bulk of our coaching is focused on the knowledge and skills that are demanded of our students. Without the standards, we run the risk of identifying a goal that is too broad, too narrow, or not grade-level appropriate. If a goal is going to make the desired impact, then it ought to be just the right size and scope. We like to think of this as setting “Goldilocks goals,” or goals that are just right. These goals revolve around processes that involve reading, writing, or solving problems. With the standards, we are able to name a goal that is clearly aligned with what we want the students to know and be able to do.

Honor the Partnership

Landing on a meaningful goal involves a combination of understanding the standards, hearing the concerns of the teacher, and creating a plan that is both realistic and inspirational. We avoid making goal setting a bureaucratic process. We prefer to think about goals for coaching cycles as being organic and motivational.

In order to reach our goals we need guidance, encouragement, skills, and tools, and that’s what coaching is about. It’s about helping teachers reach their goals for students. We can’t stand around and hope that teachers will work hard toward our goals. Goal setting side by side with teachers reminds them that we are committed to treating them with respect and, in turn, to creating trusting partnerships.

Visible Impact

 “… instead of using the source as the expert, they [students] become the expert.” – Megan Turilli, High School English Teacher

 “Collaborating had such a powerful impact upon not only the planning and goal setting, but the reflective piece that came after the lesson. It was so beneficial to have another teacher to work with as we implemented new instructional practices.” – Elementary Literacy Teacher

What Next?

Download the free guide to effective coaching practices to learn more about creating the most authentic and engaging partnership that will transform student learning.

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Written by

Diane Sweeney has been a national consultant since 1999. After teaching and coaching in the Denver Public Schools, Diane served as a program officer at the Public Education & Business Coalition (PEBC) in Denver. She has become a respected voice in the field of coaching and professional development. Diane is the author of Student-Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and PrincipalsStudent-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Leveland Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves.

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