Goal Setting to Achieve Results: This School Sets Goals at Four Levels-Schoolwide, Grade Level, Classroom and Individual Student-To Ensure Shared Ownership of Learning and Results

By Newman, Rich | Leadership, January-February 2012 | Go to article overview

Goal Setting to Achieve Results: This School Sets Goals at Four Levels-Schoolwide, Grade Level, Classroom and Individual Student-To Ensure Shared Ownership of Learning and Results


Newman, Rich, Leadership


My son's favorite pastime is one shared by many of today's youth--playing video games. We sat together as he played his newest game, and as he maneuvered the character through a whole host of obstructions, he told me he had set himself a goal of making it all the way through the current level. To accomplish this goal, according to him, he needed to improve his ability to fly the rocket through the roadblocks that were set up either to distract him from reaching his goal or else make him crash.

He could recall his high score in the game, the improvements he had made in his skill level and his next steps toward improving his skills. More importantly, he could articulate which specific skills he was good at it, and which parts of the game were difficult for him. His excitement about his destination was not just about the end result of moving to a new level, but that he had control over achieving that result. His path for success was clear to him.

Both districts and individual schools have a very clear set of goals and skills for their students to achieve and master. In fact, except in rare cases, districts and schools develop very detailed goals they wish to pursue. In most cases, unfortunately, only the teachers and staff at a particular school or district-level office are aware of the roadmap. And yet, we know that true transformation in schools can only happen when there is a clear target that is known and owned by those who are implementing the goal and to those who are striving to achieve it.

Setting goals that make a difference

Goal setting also provides a very important strategy for building a culture of shared leadership. One of the core challenges at every school is determining how to meet each child's needs and who at the site makes that determination. Goal setting is about sharing leadership between the principal, teachers and students in determining one of the most important aspects of school-setting the goals that determine the roadmap for increasing student achievement.

Spillane (2004) writes that developing a culture where leadership is shared or distributed "involves unpacking the interdependencies among leaders and followers in leadership practice." What better way to do this than through setting goals based on the one area that connects everyone--curriculum.

To catalyze improvements in student learning, schools and districts focus on a variety of strategies and techniques. Mountains of data are reviewed, results from standardized tests are analyzed, goals are set and a course for success is determined. Once this arduous process is complete, what happens to the newly created set of goals is often a mystery. Who is responsible for achieving the goals? Who knows about them and checks on their progress? For some, the task of developing the goals becomes the goal itself. For others, goals provide the fuel and oxygen needed to implement instructional strategies to help students achieve success.

Setting goals is a first step, not the last, in transforming the way teaching and learning occurs for students. In fact, to develop goals that are usable and accessible for all stakeholders, especially students, we need to "begin with clear statements of the intended learning--clear and understandable to everyone, including students" (Chappuis, Chappuis and Stiggins, 2009). We also need to ensure that goals connect with our most important stakeholders--our students.

Goal setting at multiple levels

Monterey Ridge Elementary in San Diego has embraced the use of goal setting across the school landscape. This school employs four different levels of goal setting that connect from school-wide to individual student goals and creates a synergy in all our work.

School-wide goals serve as barometers to periodically check the progress of the school as a whole. These goals are checked after each trimester, just like the progress reports students take home to share with their parents, and provide an opportunity for the school to change course, readjust priorities, make modifications or target specific standards where necessary. …

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