Monday, September 1, 2014

My Anti-SMART Goals for the Year

"Tattered Goals" by Anjan Chatterjee, via Flickr.
This post is part of the 30-Day Blog Challenge from TeachThought. To learn more about the challenge go to

DAY 1: Write your goals for the school year. Be as specific or abstract as you'd like to be!

Goals. I know they're important. I want my students to have them. I know they can be transformative and motivating. In fact, teachers in my district are required to write SMART goals every year.

In reality, the goals that truly motivate me on a day to day basis are amorphous and difficult to pin down. These are my Anti-SMART goals.

S = Specific. I want to be a more responsive teacher. This means being perceptive about what each individual student understands, doesn't understand, and how s/he learns best. This means finding out what makes them curious and want to learn more. If it sounds complicated, that's because it is. It's a constant process, different for every student, different every day. There's no way I can pinpoint a specific strategy that's going to be successful in helping me attain this goal on a regular basis. It's flexibility, not specificity, that's essential to being a responsive teacher.

M = Measurable.  I want my students to be more excited and curious about learning in general, and science in particular, when this school year ends. I want them to understand that learning is process that isn't always a straight, paved highway; rather it's a twisting, gravel road with lots of bumps and detours. Am I going to be able to measure whether or not all students have reached this point at the end of the school year? Nope, but that doesn't make it an any less-worthy goal.

A = Attainable.  Last year, the Biology students completed two major Project-Based Learning assignments. This year, I'm planning for them to complete eight unit projects, each one starting with their questions. The only requirements will be that the project falls within the topic of the unit (Genetics, for example) and results in a public product of some sort. From past experience, I know that students will initially feel overwhelmed by the openness of the assignments.  They'll beg me to just "tell us what to do!" repeatedly. This would certainly make my goal of eight unit projects more attainable, but it would also limit the creativity and independence of the students. Sometimes attainability of the end goal needs to be sacrificed to revel in the process of shooting for said goal.

R = Realistic.  For the first time this year, I'm incorporating Standards-Based Grading into the classes I teach. And digital portfolios. And team-based learning. And NGSS standards. And collaborative video projects. It's not realistic to expect that all of these initiatives will be as successful as I imagine this year, but I don't care. I always jump into the things I believe in with two feet. It's part of who I am, and I refuse to be cowed by "reality."

T = Timely.  Classes started in my district two weeks ago. A student from last year who I don't have in class this year told me last week that he misses having me as a teacher. Now, this was a student who struggled in class last year on a regular basis and was often quite perturbed on the days when I requested he redo his work just one more time. His learning didn't follow the timeline of the traditional school year. It wasn't until after the class was completed that he started to understand some of the learning practices I emphasize in the classroom. And what about all those students who return to visit years after graduating to tell us how much our presence in their learning journey impacted them? Is this a goal that can be measured on a particular deadline? Of course not.  Just as each student learns differently, they all learn at a different rate that may not always be considered "timely."

While SMART goals have a role in education, I will still always carry my Anti-SMART goals with me. I won't allow five restricting adjectives to limit the dreams and ambitions of myself and my students.

Want some alternative to SMART goals for you and/or your students? Check out this blog post by Edna Sackson at "What Ed Said."  


  1. The "R" goal was especially good for me to read. I am starting blogs with my students this year among other things and am worried that I am not truly ready. It is affirming to know that I'm not alone in "jumping" in.

  2. I once heard someone compare this process to getting into a swimming pool for the first time. Are you going to sit at the edge and dip your toes in or do a cannon ball off the edge? Dipping your toes is much safer, but if you do a cannon ball you get completely submerged and have lots of fun in the process. I might double-check the depth of the water before jumping in and make sure I know how to swim, however!