Tuesday, August 20, 2013


I think by nature I am a goal setter.   I have a vision that I want for my life and I put it to paper several years ago.  With that vision in mind I set my goals.  I look within the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual (values) domains to set short term goals for my long time vision.  As I complete one goal, I set the next.  In the evening I reflect (something that also is a part of me.)  I think about what I did within my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual domains that has allowed me to move toward my vision.  I acknowledge the movement and/or forgive myself for the lack thereof and then focus on my gratitude list.  In the process of doing this on a somewhat systematic basis I have learned about myself, have discovered some things about me that I like and don’t always like and have become a better soul because of it.  Setting goals seems natural.  It works for me.

In the work I have been doing in classrooms, goal setting has also become important.  I liken it to “rising to the top.”  Goal setting has always been important…it is the “cream” of self-realization or learning.  And that learning has risen to the top.

In my work in writers’ workshop I have often spent time at the end of the unit having students reflect and set a writing goal.  In my practice with teachers and with students, this act has taken a more prominent role.  Conversations I have had with teachers have focused on how to get students to set short and long term goals in writing—both across a piece and across a year.  Teachers have set up boards where students set writing goals and monitor them across a workshop and change the goal as the goal is completed.  This allows the student to be in the driving seat of his or her own learning. 

Some of this shift is caused by the new APPR and the Danielson rubric for evaluation of teachers used in the districts where I coach.  The rubric promotes this kind of self-monitoring learning as the highest level of learning for a child thus giving the teacher the highest score for promoting it.  There are lots of pressures and unfair and unanticipated results that are coming out of implementation of the APPR, but the actions we have seen in having students set and monitor goals of their own learning is a positive movement that has occurred as teachers focus on best-practice in sometimes forgotten ways.  I hear, “Oh, yeah.  I used to do this.  This has gotten away from me.”  or “What a great idea.  Why haven’t I thought to do this before?  It makes sense.”   This practice has “risen to the top” as good and important.  And this is a good thing for our students.

I have been working with goal setting in another venue—the graduate classes I teach—and quite honestly, it is not going as well as I had hoped.   At the beginning of the summer semester, my colleague and I who co-taught a class, had our students write out their goals for the semester’s learning.  The goals that the students set were broad and vague and didn’t hold meaning for the students so when asked to monitor their growth with the self-selected goal, many didn’t even remember what their goal was.  Many expressed interest in what my goals were for their learning. 

In their summative reflections their understandings that their learning occurred in other domains besides the academic and intellectual domain did occur.  In monitoring their learning with an acronym my colleague and I developed called V-PIES (V=Values, P=Physical, I=Intellectual, E=Emotional and S=Social) students were able to determine that their reflections across the semester contained understandings across a variety of domains.  But that did not translate into self-selecting and monitoring goals.  Lots of really wonderful things occurred in this class, but goal-setting was not the cream that rose to the top.  In my reflections about this semester I wonder why at a graduate level my students struggled with the concept of selecting a goal for learning and would rather have me set the goals.  I have asked myself how I might scaffold this learning for graduate students in a different way so that they can independently take on AND value the practice of self-selecting goals as good and important.  I look forward to playing with this in future semester course.  It is cream worth rising to the top.

And now I find myself preparing for a new school year—both in my school district and in the college where I adjunct.  This notion of goal setting in academia is an important one.  As I prepare for my new students (both children and adult) I find myself thinking about goal-setting and how to most effectively have all students set and monitor their goals for learning—it is the cream of learning.  Setting up conditions for this to happen most effectively—that is my goal


  1. I love that you are a natural goal setter. I see it demonstrated in my husband's life and one of my very good friends at school. I want to get better. This does not come naturally to me. I am so random. In fact, brainstorming is my strength but finishing is really sometimes a burden for me. I hope that I can improve. xo

  2. I enjoyed your reflection, Deborah. Setting goals and then reflection is a big part of what we do with our students at my school. By the time they leave, it's automatic for most. They choose, then lay out the needs for reaching the goal, and so on. I wonder if the graduate students have spent too long in classes where the goals are automatic, no individual thinking/goal-setting required & thus they are out of the habit. I imagine your work with them will be so helpful to them as they move on.

  3. I had some of the same thoughts as Linda. I cannot think of a class where I had to set a goal. The teachers always told me what I'd be learning. I didn't have control over any part. Hopefully we can develop students who understand goal setting and it becomes a natural process.