Creating Coherence

There’s a special kind of efficiency that happens when we’re able to see overlaps and connections. It is very easy to look at all of the demands upon us and see them as discrete and separate elements on a never-ending to-do list, but there is tremendous power in the pursuit of coherence.

One example: Student Growth Goals, Professional Growth Goals and Data.

We know that by law we all have to write and monitor student growth goals. I’m lucky to be in a district and building that gives us as teachers ownership of our goals, so we are empowered to design and implement growth goals that are meaningful to our students…not just for checking a TPEP box or demonstrating our compliance. In addition to student growth goals, we also have our professional growth goals we are expected to develop. If you’re on the comprehensive “all eight” evaluation (like I am), that means a small group student growth goal, a whole class student growth goal, a collaboration goal, and a professional growth goal.

Imagine if all of these things could be focused in a way that any data I gather serves to monitor all of these goals.

Here’s how I’m attempting to achieve this coherence:

I start by observing for a need. Those first weeks are critical for getting to know students as humans and as learners. Through observation and assessment, narrow my focus on a specific, high-leverage skill that I see as a gap in my kids’ academic performance.

Before I write their student growth goal, I consider the skills I want to develop. If I want to improve my students’ skills, I need to be deliberate about the practices I employ. Sure, I have some lessons from years past, but I want to consider what learning I need to do to enhance my practice around teaching this particular skill in a way that helps all students grow and improve. I explore some strategies, extend my own learning, and select a few specific teaching moves to try out. This becomes the seed of my professional growth goal.

Here’s where the unity starts to form: If I am going to change my practice, it should result in a change in student performance. Thus, I craft my professional growth goal and my student growth goal in the same block of text.

The core of my goal set, I nest “inward” for my small group goal. Within this skill, I have a subgroup who needs a bit more intervention. I expand my goal to address them and identify likely interventions.

Finally, I nest “outward” for my collaboration goal. Here’s the dirty little secret about collaboration goals: lots of teachers and administrators misinterpret what it takes to have proficient goals. The assumption is that my team and I have to have the same goals, use the same data, and demonstrate how we walk in lock step toward a common destination. Not so. If you read the actual rubric for 8.1sg, it is more about “playing nicely with others” than it is about everybody having to do the same thing the same way. So, I tag onto my goal how I plan to “play nicely.”

Here’s what my goal might end up looking like…it is long, but it is accomplishing multiple jobs, all the while letting me focus on just one:

By learning about building coherence in writing, I will improve my professional practice by trying at least two different scaffolds that help students achieve more coherent analytical writing. As a result, my students will be able to select and effectively use a pattern evidence to support a claim, as demonstrated in regular journal entries, formal literary analysis papers, and evaluation of informational text. By the end of the quarter, each student will increase by at least one level on the “Argument from Evidence” assessment scale. My subgroup will consist of the students who scored a Level One or lower on the first assessment. I will offer additional interventions (via targeted feedback and small group writing workshops) to assist these students to each increase by two levels on the scale. I will collaborate with my PLC to examine my goals during our every-other-week PLC meetings. I will share my assessments for feedback and we will examine student performance to strategize interventions as needed.

When the assessment data starts to roll in, I can now use the student’s performance not only to examine their growth, but also the impact that changes in my practice had on their growth. To me, that kinda seems like what the point was from the beginning. In the end, I write one comprehensive goal that represents a laser-like focus on improving my practice in order to improve student performance.

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6 thoughts on “Creating Coherence

  1. Jessie Towbin

    Great idea to focus on coherence in goal-setting. I especially appreciate the nesting approach. I am on the comprehensive plan this year too. I know that my goals are meaningful, but I could have benefited from making them more coherent. I will definitely keep the idea of nesting inward and outward in the future.

    1. Mark Gardner Post author

      I stole that nesting idea from a WEA student growth goal setting training… it makes sense to align all the work to make things focused and efficient 🙂

  2. Mandy Manning

    I think your comment on 8.1 actually being about “playing nicely with others” is an important observation. So often we misinterpret collaboration as everyone agreeing and attempting to determine a single path and pursue that path in the same way. We are all different as educators and we all have different students. As you said, you start with a student need. If that is what we are doing – which we should be – then none of us will be able to approach the same content in the same way. Thanks for this.

    1. Mark Gardner Post author

      YES… too often we get compelled to focus on the task to get done, rather than realizing that the whole point is to focus on the students. They are “student” growth goals after all.

  3. Shannon Cotton

    Thank you for this! Collaboration goals can often feel so forced and inauthentic because of that misconception. Even if we are working on different specific goals collaboration can help you to work towards completion. I’m excited to share this blog with others in my building who are still struggling with their goals.

  4. Lynne Olmos

    Mark, this is very helpful. So many people find the goal-setting process to be daunting. This is a great model for making it meaningful, from start to finish.

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