Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Teacher's Goals

 Oh, dear.  This post is kind of long too.  Some things are gelling for me, and writing it out has been very helpful.

In my last post, I noted that student goal-setting is a requirement in many programs because it can improve persistence and retention (benefiting both the student and the agency).   I proposed that if we want to see those benefits, then goal-setting needs to be supported  by practices beyond the classroom such as managed enrollment and making sure enrolling students clearly see the connection between their dreams and the class they're signing up for.

With those supports in place, the teacher can immediately help learners find relevant short-term goals.  Learner goals will overlap somewhat, which means they can help each other and that the teacher can more easily plan lessons for the benefit of many.  Not only will students see and celebrate real successes connected to their life, but if they use a process like SMART goal-setting, then when things don't go as planned they will practice stepping back to assess the situation, revising their plan, and continuing forward.  That's overcoming obstacles -- the essence of persistence.

I also reflected that a teacher should be using the same goal-setting process and sharing that fact with their learners.  If I make the claim that goal-setting is an effective life skill but don't practice it, well, what motivation do learners have to believe me?  Not only that, but what evidence do I really have that it's true?  Frankly, if I made a serious effort to use a particular goal-setting process and found it to be worthless, I would not advise my learners to use it even if I were required to do so!

This last idea -- the practice what you preach thing -- has been lurking around in the back of my mind for some time.  Critical thinking skills, technology-readiness, active community participation, effective communication, job-readiness skills such as time management, etc.: I don't have to be good at these things, but I feel that I can't really advise my learners that they're worthwhile unless I believe it myself.  And if I believe it, then I should either already be practicing them or at least be willing to try right along with my learners!  And I don't think it stops at the teacher level. The same argument travels right up the chain, of course.

Near Appomattox, Virginia
OK, so what about my goal-setting skills?  In the course I'm taking at, the instructor asked us to look at the materials and lessons so far and report what we found useful and what was NOT useful to us. That was an eye-opening experience. I could not think of anything that was not useful. As I puzzled over this, it suddenly became clear that I have not set a path for myself.  Things are only useful or not useful in the context of my own needs.  Do I need it all?  Or maybe I should narrow it down a bit, ha ha!

I'm just like many of my learners.  I have strong motivation and I take action for self-improvement. In my case, I sign up for all sorts of interesting courses. I read books, blogs, and pdfs from the Internet.  I ponder and write reflective blog posts. I surf for useful ideas and collect them (or links to them) for future reference. I try new things in the classroom. But where do I want to go with it all?  Am I going in that direction?  Who knows?!

As is pretty typical in business, we are asked to set professional development objectives every year.  In the last year or so, we've been asked to develop objectives based on specific data we've gathered in the process of doing our work.  We're supposed to make changes in the classroom and then report any effect on learning outcomes. But I had been a little bit at a loss with regard to how to go about it.

It turns out that the above-mentioned course (Breaking Rules) is all about that!  We've gathered data and analyzed it and I even tried a small change in the classroom yesterday.  It felt as if the effect was good, but the data (when I analyze it) will tell.  It was emphasized in class that a small amount of information can yield countless opportunities for experimentation!  I now have a better feel for what to do, but I need to narrow it down.  What to improve first?!  This is where goal-setting can come in.  I need to examine my aspirations and choose a specific long-term goal.  I hope that will help me focus on what to try in the classroom going forward.

As I go through this, I don't see why I can't use the same SMART goals and follow-up sheets I ask my learners to use.  An added benefit is that I can tweak them based on my experience using them.  IF I get a cycle going, I will then feel good about sharing it with my learners and asking them to do the same thing.  We'll all be using what's happening in our gatherings to improve ourselves.  I like it!

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