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Goals can be powerful tools to help us achieve success. They assist us to focus on what is important. Goals inform the actions we take to move us forward, and they also guide us as we monitor and measure our progress.  

Goals also play key roles in the classrooms that reach the highest levels of learning. A major international study lists instructional goals as one of ten defining actions of effective teachers. John Hattie’s meta-analysis of what works in learning ranks student goal setting as a potent strategy that learners can employ to boost their learning. Meanwhile, shared classroom goals can create a common focus and sense of purpose for students.

Each of these three types of goals add value to our efforts to have our students succeed. However, when the three types of goals are present and supporting each other, their impact can be ever greater. Let’s examine the synergy we can generate when our instructional goals, student learning goals, and shared class goals are aligned and working together to support student success.  

First, instructional goals help us focus and plan our instruction to move student learning forward in alignment with the intended curriculum. They help us to organize the content and skills we want students to learn, and they assist us in choosing resources and selecting strategies that will best serve our students. Instructional goals can be as narrow as a focus on a single unit or lesson and what we want students to experience and learn, or they can be as broad as a semester-long effort to build academic skills and learning persistence. However, instructional goals are most powerful when they are reflective of what students are ready to learn and when they are calibrated to move students forward based on where their learning is, not where we would like them to be—or where the curriculum imagines them to be. Instructional goals articulate what we want our students to learn and be able to do. They can support actions and strategies that are tailored to our students in ways that make their success most likely. Meanwhile, we can use instructional goals to monitor and adjust our actions to ensure students constantly move ever closer to the learning outcomes we seek for them. 

Second, the goals students set help them to see purpose in their learning. They can help students develop confidence that their efforts are leading to learning progress. Typically, students are more open to feedback regarding their efforts and progress when feedback is aligned with the goals to which they are committed. Goals can help students gain confidence regarding their capacity to learn and succeed. When students participate in creating action plans in support of their goals and then work through those plans, they gain important experience regarding what makes a difference in their learning, and they also have opportunities to practice progress monitoring and to make adjustments that move them toward achievement of their goals. Of course, when we develop instructional goals and action plans that are aligned with and leverage student learning goals, progress accelerates and success comes even sooner.  

Third, when we engage students in making decisions and setting goals regarding the learning environment, we are building a sense of community. Well-chosen class goals can build team spirit, mutual support, and confidence among classmates. Shared class goals can also make classroom management easier. However, these goals must involve actions, activities, and outcomes in which every student can participate and find success. Shared class goals also need to be within the control of the students. For example, attendance may not be best for younger children but could be workable for older students. Class goals might connect to schoolwide themes or improvement goals. Creating and maintaining an environment of caring and respect, being resilient and bouncing back from setbacks, and striving for excellence in learning and behavior are examples of class goals in which all students can support and share. Academic progress goals are not always the best choice because students learn at different rates and in different ways. Students also don’t all start at the same place; consequently, without care and thoughtfulness behind them, shared academic goals can lead to tension and conflict. Regardless, class goals need to be important and worthwhile from the perspective of students in order to make a difference. 

The synergy generated by aligned instructional goals and student learning goals grows when those goals exist within a classroom environment of shared norms and purpose. Instructional goals have a greater impact, student learning goals experience greater leverage, and students experience greater support and sense of belonging. The combination can create an unstoppable force for learning.  

Thought for the Week

When we understand another person’s perspective, what they are thinking and feeling, we are better able to relate to them and understand their needs.

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