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. The table below provides examples of goals that are too narrow, too broad, and just right.
You may have noticed that our examples of “just-right goals” revolve around processes that involve reading, writing, or solving problems. This allows us to work with teachers to apply content knowledge in authentic ways. We understand the importance of learning content; we just don’t view content knowledge as an ideal goal for a coaching cycle. For example, “learning your addition and subtraction facts” targets content. So does, “memorizing the major events in the Civil Rights movement.” If these were goals for coaching cycles, then we would be limiting the outcome to learning discrete facts. Instead, we prefer goals that include content but also get at a deeper level of understanding.
When goals are too broad then we run the risk of kicking off a coaching cycle with little focus. We know that the scope is just about right when a goal leads us to generate between five and seven learning targets that capture the knowledge and skills we are after. It would be hard to accomplish this with a goal as broad as learning about the Civil Rights movement. But it would be possible if our goal was “Students will analyze the role of a key person in the Civil Rights movement,” or “Students will read a collection of texts on the Civil Rights movement in order to create an argument for either side of the conflict.” Having a clear sense of what the students should know and be able to do is essential for a goal to feel motivating and manageable. It is also essential for a coaching cycle to make the desired impact.
Focus on the Learning Instead of the Task
We also avoid setting goals that are task- or project-oriented, such as “Students will create a diagram that shows the water cycle.” Task-oriented goals are limiting because they are measured by whether the students did something instead of if they learned something.
This is a common experience faced by technology coaches. For example, a teacher is about to begin her tried-and-true unit on rocks and minerals that culminates with a museum where the students share their own rock collections. It is quite possible that when asked, the teacher will name a goal for coaching that sounds something like, “I would like help with the student-led museum that we will be doing at the end of the unit. You know a lot about technology, maybe our goal can be to have the students create their projects using technology instead of the old-fashioned posters that we’ve done in the past.” Right about now is when the coach recognizes that a shift of focus is required. The trick is doing so in a way that respects the teacher’s request to “create a product” but also moves coaching to a more rigorous and student- centered place. Asking the teacher, “What would you like the students to know and be able to do?” is a great way to move the focus away from creating a product. And if that doesn’t work, it’s time to pull out the standards so that the teacher is thinking about the knowledge and skills that she is after.
The Goal Is a Starting Point . . . Not the End Game
We are often asked how our goal-setting process compares with developing SMART goals. While we see the value of SMART goals in the context of school improvement plans and other big picture measures for accountability, we take a narrower approach that is often related to a unit of study or specific content area rather than on a certain amount of improvement on a specific assessment. Goals for coaching cycles are about what we’d like our students to learn over the next four to six weeks, rather than how we are going to show progress across the whole year.
Goals for coaching cycles are a lot like when the horses line up at the Kentucky Derby. They are in the starting gates, they are excited, and they know the direction they are headed.
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