Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Choose a Challenging Goal: Improving Craft and Practice

It is goal setting time in schools throughout Massachusetts. Teachers meet with evaluators to set and review goals, rationale, action plans, and success criteria.

I believe it's valuable to set challenging goals. Some shy away from setting challenging goals for a number of reasons. One of the greatest reasons, I believe, that people don't set challenging goals is that they work in environments that don't welcome risk, mistakes, and the needed efforts and teamwork that go hand-in-hand with challenging goals.

Fortunately I work in an environment that can support a challenging goal, and I enjoy a challenging goal because that kind of goal is intellectually stimulating and helps me to become a much better teacher.

So this year I've chosen two challenging goals. One is to improve feedback to students in ways that encourage and motivate greater academic success in math, and the other goal is to embed Social Emotional Learning into science and STEAM lessons. Both goals are born from worthy rationale. The better feedback goal originated with a deep analysis of MCAS scores and other measures of students' performance from last year, and the SEL goal came from a number of research/learning endeavors I've been involved in including writing the book, Integrating SEL into the Academic Program and Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey's recent reports, Encouraging Social Emotional Learning in the Context of New Accountability and Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success.

I have already noticed that improving feedback has resulted in better performance and better relationships with children. Good feedback loops help educators to know the learners they are working with well. The challenge with good feedback lies in time and numbers--there are many children in a class and little time to provide quality feedback.  With this in mind, I am trying to create feedback loops that work. So far, I am using the following feedback loops:
  • Weekly homework packet: the packet includes a small amount of needed review and additional enrichment/bonus options. I pass out the packet on Wednesdays and collect and review the following Tuesday. The challenge is that the feedback takes about 6 hours after school, however the good understanding I receive from this feedback is invaluable. We know that many countries provide needed feedback time for educators, however that's typically not true in the United States. 
  • Online Learning Menu: I provide feedback by reviewing students' overall learning and creating a responsive learning menu that students can complete on their own or with peers in school or after school (if desired). Students' efforts are reported to my computer, and I can quickly assess who is learning the material and who needs more or different supports.
  • Math Workshop: During math workshop, I am able to readily respond to students as they engage in a large variety of learning experiences.
  • Tests, Quizzes, Exercises, and Assessments: These learning mechanisms help me to see who has mastered what skills, and I can use that information to better plan future learning experiences, small group support, and individual coaching. 
  • Parent/Teacher Conference Prep and Presentation: This process creates a back-and-forth effort to review learning to date, compose goals, rationale, and action plans, and work as a learning team to encourage and support student learning.
I am enthusiastic about the goal of strengthening student feedback loops as I know it will support greater, deeper, and better student learning. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this goal too as their efforts and feedback will inform my goal efforts too.

The second goal which is to embed SEL into STEAM and science lessons is a goal I'll complete learning experience by learning experience. The first challenge I've met with this goal is making the time to include this teaching as well as science and STEAM lessons--we often run out of time to meet the demands of a curriculum program that outweighs students' time/energy capacity as well as hours in the year. With that in mind, however, I will set aside time for this valuable teaching and learning. I'll chart my efforts beginning with next Monday's math/science lesson about carbon and its relationship to who we are, our environment, and what's important. 

Choosing a challenging goal keeps learners and teachers in the game of school. Goals with a just-right challenge rightly direct our energy, time, and effort leading us forward to improve and develop our craft while teaching all students well. What is your challenging goal this year? Why is this goal important to you and your students? How will you reach that goal and what kinds of supports are available to you in this regard.