Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough


cc licensed image shared by flickr user Sean MacEntee

cc licensed image shared by flickr user &DC

Gooooooal! declares the sports announcer. Gooooooal! exclaims my jubilant husband. The excitement of my Argentinean spouse as his soccer (or rather football) team scores a goal is contagious.

Gooooool! I cry. Or, at least I do in my mind. The goals I celebrate are different than football goals. They are aspirations.

I am a principal, serving students with a broad range of interests, curiosities, and capabilities; helping them discover themselves as they are in the present and supporting them to embrace the potential in themselves as they are becoming. I am a supervisor, assisting teachers to recognize and build on their current skills, while guiding them to envision themselves as the increasingly skilled activators of student learning they are becoming. I live in a world of imagining the possible.

It’s professional goal setting time at school and I’m so proud I feel almost ready to sing out in celebration: gooooooal!

I meet, one on one, with each teacher. I meet as a group with our professional leadership team (myself, assistant principal, psychologist, and admissions director), during which time each of us set a professional goal; a particular area that will support student learning in which to delve deep. These are not necessarily our school-wide goals and strategic plan, although often times they reflect school-wide momentum and effort. These are individual goals; reflecting our unique professional journeys. By no means the whole of our work; our goals nonetheless ground our aspirations, reminding us that professional learning, like learning more broadly, is a process, benefitting from focus, time and dedication.

Some goals our teachers have chosen for themselves include:

  • To develop a broader, more nuanced approach to assessing student learning and to utilize gleanings from those assessments to plan ongoing instruction
  • To create a learning environment in which all students participate actively in both full class and small collaborative group activities
  • To gain greater skill in designing differentiated learning experiences for collaborative and independent student learning 
  • To strengthen relationships with parents utilizing technology and face to face connection 
  • To develop greater comfort and skill in teaching math, including differentiation for strong students
  • To in a serious way collaborate with members of the grade level team in order to support student learning

My own goal is to improve the quality and effectiveness of our supervisory, evaluative, and support processes for teachers.

We’ve only just begun, and many of our teachers are still setting goals. Each goal includes an action plan, supports for meeting the goal, and means by which we will assess success. We will monitor progress throughout the year and evaluate ourselves based on growth.

cc licensed image shared by flickr user carnavalboquense

While proud of our teachers, I worry. Will we be pulled back by the many obstacles constantly present – limited time, limited resources, the priorities of others? Will we be distracted by the crises that inevitably occur? Will we be drained by the pressures to move perhaps too quickly toward our goals, neglecting to reflect, change course as needed, and adapt when necessary?

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Niklas Hellerstedt

 Or will we ponder, embrace support, and consider our course carefully? Will we pace ourselves thoughtfully in order to make meaningful progress over the long haul?  Will we consider multiple approaches toward meeting our goals? Will we remain open to alternative perspectives and approaches? Will we seek to learn from our strengths and successes as well as from our missteps and mistakes?

What advice do you have for us? We welcome your wisdom.

Comments on: "Gooooooal!" (9)

  1. Jane Taubenfeld Cohen said:

    I love this post and commend you for working towards goals. I am wondering if there is some mapping associated with the goal- what activities will happen in order to work towards the goal- I am guessing you have a plan and want to hear more about it.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Jane,
      Each teacher has a written action plan, list of supports to utilize in working toward the goal, and assessments to monitor progress and success. I will be categorizing the goals to connect groups of teachers with similar goals so we can better collaborate. Mapping the goals is an intriguing idea and not something yet in our plan. I wonder if you have examples of goal mapping. I’d love to learn from ways other schools have supported professional goals. Perhaps it would be of value to co-author a post with one of our teachers about the ways in which we are working on a goal – the view of the process through the eyes of a specific teacher. I hope to share updates for feedback from colleagues after our mid-year assessments of progress and our end of year assessments. Thanks for a question that prompts my thinking!

  2. Jane Taubenfeld Cohen said:

    I have not yet seen a school mapping teacher goals in a systematic way but it seems like it would be a good thing to do. I know of a school doing what you are doing with teachers but with students. I think (at some point) you guys should connect. I would love to hear about this through the view of a teacher.

  3. I completely agree with you on the importance of personal and professional goal setting. However, I wonder if you have any thoughts about whether those goals should be tied to evaluation and, in our current culture, teacher pay.

    Yes, I have goals. Some of them are experimental in nature, but I think they’re worth trying. If my instincts are correct, my students will benefit from the experiment results. If my instincts are off-base, the “damage” is minimal or non-existent.

    But if my evaluation and possibly my pay is tied to how well I fulfill my goals, I’m more likely to play it safe and set my goals with very little at risk and, consequently, very little potential reward for students.

    Does tying goals to evaluation, in other words, contribute to entropy and status-quo thinking? Do evaluation-based goals encourage teachers to have two sets of goals: one for administration and a more authentic set for themselves?

    Thanks for considering these questions. I’m very interested in administrative perspectives on this issue.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Gary,

      Thank you so much for raising what for me is the very heart of a struggle in supervision between evaluation and coaching for learning and growth. I have many thoughts about the role of evaluation and believe that my commitment to students is to support their teachers to be the very best they can be. I am trying to create safety for teachers in setting stretch, authentic goals by emphasizing that their assessment will be based on learning and growth, not meeting the goal. Indeed, most of the goals are aspirational and are not items that would ever fully be met. Progress as a professional is far preferable to me than accomplishing the goal. I do believe that some clarity may come in distinguishing between assessment and evaluation; assessment being formative and on-going monitoring of progress and growth; evaluation being a requirement yet not as important as ongoing assessment for the vast majority of teachers.

      I do not link assessments to teacher pay. I also do not link the limited amount of standardized testing we do (Stanford 10’s in 3rd-5th grade) to teacher evaluation or pay. I am blessed to work in an independent school in which I have the flexibility to structure teacher support as makes sense. This has been and continues to be a work in progress. I recognize it is more complicated in the public schools, yet am connected with a number of public school principals who strive to do similar work; perhaps going through the evaluations as required by the district, yet emphasizing the coaching and professional learning.

      I am making a commitment to teachers to share with them directly when I have on my “evaluator” hat and am sharing a concern as an evaluator that I am requiring them to address. And, I am making a commitment to teachers to let them know if the concern is so serious as potentially to impact contract renewal. If I do not have those “evaluator” conversations, our discussion is about learning and growth. It seems to me that too often, evaluation procedures are put into place to address concerns and not to build on strengths. I hope to create, together with our teachers, a system that develops capacity of our teachers.

      Do evaluation-based goals encourage teachers to have two sets of goals: one for administration and one more authentic for themselves? That would make good sense. I am therefore striving to focus on safe on-going reflective assessment. This remains a work in progress and teachers’ perspectives on how better to support teachers and navigate honestly the tension inherent in the role of the principal is vitally important.

      Thanks for your candid thoughts! You are helping me to clarify my thinking and I appreciate! I look forward to ongoing conversation!

  4. Great points! As principals we also have to make our goals for ourselves and school improvement planning public for staff. I believe I have a much better chance achieving my goals if everyone knows what they are. School staff will be able to help me achieve my goals as well. Thanks for the post!

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      I wonder about ways of sharing our goals with each other at school; mine as well as others. I’m considering creating groups of teachers with similar goals and creating the time and offering the voluntary option of meeting to learn and confer on topics related to their goals. I’m also considering how to share my goal and seek feedback and input. How have you made your goals and school improvement planning public? I’d love to continue the conversation.

      • Hi there! I discussed my goals at a staff meeting in September and showed how they aligned with the School Improvement Plan as well as the Board Improvement Plan. I framed it in such a way that it was seen as a piece of the puzzle to help improve all of out teaching and learning. After this teachers were responsible to do their own Annual Learning Plans as per policy. It was my hope that they did their plans to reflect my goals for the school and he school board priorities for the year. I am very happy to say that his process works! We have more and more people trying to achieve similar goals and everything is linked together in some way.

      • Shira Leibowitz said:

        I love the connection between goals; combined with the opportunity for teachers to individualize the goals to meet their needs. It is such a wonderful combination of a school “rowing in the same direction” while embracing the unique voices of teachers. Your leadership in presenting your goals first sounds meaningful. I wonder ways of connecting our goals as principals as one piece of the puzzle, as you so thoughtfully write, connected to the goals of others. Thanks so much for stretching my thinking.

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