Journeys Through Teaching

Journeys Through Teaching

Goal Setting: Starting with strengths not deficits

The process of goal setting is pretty well embedded in schools across the globe. We know that we make better progress when we have a clear outcome in mind and set reasonable goals to grow – and in an industry which can be slow to implement change, we’ve largely accepted this as a good practice to some degree. The first few weeks of school sees a flurry of goal setting for teachers, administrators and of course students. Practice varies and can be anything from lesson objectives to SMART goals to data targets and any number of other options and approaches.

But, there’s some that bothers me a little about goal setting – we almost always look at it from a deficit perspective. We ask some version of ‘What do you need to get better at?’. Now, don’t get me wrong, plenty of teachers/administrators also ask ‘what are you good at?’ – but those answers rarely factor into the goal setting. My hesitation (concern? discomfort?) here is covers a few points. Firstly, there’s the emotional barrier for some people in being challenged to strengthen something you aren’t good at – if you’re struggling with multiple aspects of school this is magnified. Cognitive load theory tells us that there’s a limit to how much information we can take on board, now imagine those early weeks of school and repeatedly listing all the things you cannot do. For some students this might help them focus, but it you’re struggling at school I wonder what impact this might have? I think the fact that teachers were usually at least moderately successful at school maybe leads to a situation where we don’t know what it would be like to struggle for multiple hours a day. Secondly, when we’re highlighting what doesn’t work it might sometimes feels like that devalues what we are good at. We’re not taking the same amount of time to focus on those strengths and think about we continue to grow those skills. And finally, I wonder if we’re missing a way to help kids (and adults) grow and flourish.

At the IB conference we listened to a Key Note speech from Sir Clive Woodward. His work with peak performance athletes (from rugby to the Olympics to skiing and more) was inspirational, and his speech also sparked an idea. What if we set goals based on what are students/teachers are really GOOD at? Supporting this, Dr. Siva Kumari challenged educators to focus on what IS working, rather than what is not. Whilst a base level of foundational skills are critical for all students, could we not set goals that identify what you are great at and find ways to leverage that as well? Is the talented artist going to be an economist? Who knows – but perhaps the passion for art could be used to unlock some skills and understandings that are a struggle at this point in time? I’m not saying we ditch looking at areas we need to grow in, but that we begin from a different place.

By taking time to focus on what we are already good at/passionate about and how we will grow in this area we can help our students/colleagues grow in confidence and feel appreciated for what they bring to the table.

This also builds into another idea from Sir Clive Woordward – Talent alone is not enough. Being passionate about something or talented won’t take our kids to the heights we know they could reach – they have to work hard and be prepared to chase down their success. By goal setting for things we’re already passionate about and good at we’re driving towards peak performance. This makes me think about the connection between school and life after school. When I set myself professional goals they’re connected to my strength – I’m a PYP Coordinator – my goals don’t ask me to strengthen my rugby skills (fortunately) or my understanding of different economic models (again…lucky on that one too).

With this in mind, we created a template for a goal setting sheet (its an easy way to start the conversation) and some prompt questions that could support this way of beginning goal setting. This would be less specific to a subject area, but more about general growth as a person.

We’re now going to try this out with some of our students, and hopefully a couple of teachers too! I’m interested to see how this impacts mindset, determination and the feeling of success. I hope, that as we grow stronger at things we love to do that confidence and success will spread. Let’s see!

Download an editable version of the goal setting sheet here:

Interested in learning more? Click below to see more from Sir Clive Woodward (we earn a small commission on sales at no cost to you!)

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Emma Wheatley
Emma Wheatley


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