If you had asked me what the school’s or district’s goals were when I was a teacher nine years ago, I would not have been able to tell you with confidence. At the time, a typical teacher goal would state something about “increasing parent communication” or “providing differentiated opportunities for learning.” These are certainly important aspects to teaching, but don’t really provide the guidance and structure needed for teachers to affect the growth possible within their work with students.
When I became an administrator eight years ago, I began to think more and more about the importance of aligning our practice so that what we were working toward was clear and understood by all. It just made sense to me that if everyone was on the same page, then the goals that were set and revisited throughout the year would become a relevant part of the work we were doing. This is not, however, always an easy process.
Five years ago I was hired as the principal of Memorial School in Newton, NH. I came into the position knowing that we would never ultimately realize our goals if everything we did was in isolation. After attending a PLC Conference in Boston, MA with the DuFours, I felt that active participation in the SMART goal process would help to define for our school precisely what it was we wanted teachers to work toward. Little did I know just how impactful it would be…
When we began this process, it required a significant amount of dedication to ensure that our focus was directed where it needed to be. Our decisions needed to be driven by data. It wasn’t what we “thought” but rather what we “knew” based upon the data available. We needed to be “tight” by making sure the goals that were written to support the needs of our school were Strategic and Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound. The former was a process that was enlightening for all members of our team leader group and allowed members of this group to become quite adept at analyzing data. The latter proved to be a time-consuming process which needed to be revisited often to ensure that the intent of our work was not lost.
The assistant principal, Donna Johnson, and I worked collaboratively with this group of dedicated team leaders to examine the most recent data we had available. We looked for and identified common areas of weakness school-wide, and determined what the greatest areas of need were for cohorts of students. This typically required the group to form consensus based upon multiple data points. Each year, the data has proven to be fairly straightforward, and it has typically been quite evident which students are not making the progress we would expect, resulting in a fairly quick determination of where our focus as a school needs to be.
Building an effective SMART goal has not always been a smooth process. Five years ago, we decided to incorporate a process of modeling to build capacity within our teacher leaders related to writing an effective SMART goal. Prior to the beginning of each school year, our team leaders (which the administrators are a part of) meet to generate the school goal(s) together based upon our data. While doing this, we carefully go through each stage of the SMART goal to ensure we have built a goal which includes all necessary components. Each team leader is then responsible for leading their team through the same process to formulate their own team SMART goal based upon their team data. Individual members of the team are then responsible for knowing and understanding their own classroom data to support their team’s goals. To borrow an expression from our Superintendent, Dr. Brian Blake, “All oars will be rowing in the same direction.”
On many occasions, a team would turn a goal in with a certain “part” missing. Most often, the “Measureable” part of their goal was not evident. I spent a good deal of time assisting teams in making their goals measurable so that over time, teachers have developed a better understanding of what each component consists of. We are fortunate that at this point, most teachers have a very clear understanding of what it takes to formulate a goal which encompasses all necessary components.
Understanding what was actually attainable was difficult, as well. For example, if we knew that 57% of our students were meeting their growth targets in reading, how could we know what an attainable percentage increase would be over a given year if it was our first year tracking this? Because we have multiple years of growth data now, we are able to fairly accurately predict a challenging, yet attainable goal.
Below is a visual that we created to demonstrate how our goals all support the school and district goals. Our school goal was created last year when we realized that, although we were moving specific students out of the lowest 33rd percentile according to NWEA assessment data, other students were falling into the lower 33rd. We wanted to make sure we were moving students out of the lowest 33rd, keeping them out, and ensuring that other students did not make their way in. Each team’s goal below is a result of their specific data, and was built through a common process.
It has been very helpful to assess our SMART goals throughout the year. Our SMART goals are assessed mid-year and at the end of the year. Teams are responsible for analyzing and reporting out to me their growth based upon data. During the mid-year check, teams report out which goal(s) they are on track to meet or not meet and how they are going to address any areas of deficiency. During the end-of-year reporting, teachers identify what they feel helped them to achieve each goal and what instruction may have been missing that didn’t allow students to effectively progress. We have found that once these areas have been identified, teachers are cognizant of student’s individual needs and adjust instruction as appropriate to provide the support and intervention necessary for their growth.
As time has passed, we have relied on our SMART goals more and more. Teams have demonstrated a clear understanding of why we use them, how they relate to their daily instruction, and how they support and, in many ways, define the work within their PLCs. I report our progress on these goals to our parents, community and Board throughout the year. There have certainly been times in which we have not met goals, and this is honestly and accurately shared. I believe this transparency is crucial to model, as well. We believe strongly that what we are doing is best for our kids and our school, and this willingness to communicate allows parents to be aware of the progress or lack of progress we have made as a school.
As we near the end of the school year, our teams have been in the process of evaluating the growth of students in relation to the goals that were set back in the fall. The initial results have been very positive. It is indicative of a competent, collaborative hard-working team of teachers focusing their efforts on a common goal that is understood by all. The end result, and most important outcome, is that all students are likely realizing success and meeting their full potential.