What Is the Sequence of Goal Setting in a PLC?
We received a question about goals from someone who wanted to know if district goals had to be established before school goals could be created, and if school goals were necessary before team goals could be developed. He also asked how to establish a goal that would address all teams if achievement at different grade levels or departments were very different. Here is our response:
There is nothing sacred about the sequence of the goals. In fact, we have worked in many districts where there were no district goals, and so schools were left to their own devices in establishing goals. On the other hand, if a district establishes a goal, there is no chance it will be achieved if the schools reject it and head off in pursuit of their own goals. Similarly, a school will not achieve its goals if teams are free to ignore it. Once a goal is established, the people who are crucial to achieving it must adopt it as part of their own goals.
I think the best goals at the district and school levels are broad. For example, the district goal could be "We will raise the bar and close the achievement gap in all of our schools." Elementary school goals should typically focus on math and literacy because those areas should be priorities at every grade level. On the other hand, if middle and high schools limit goals to math and literacy, teaches of other courses may feel they are not responsible for contributing. So we encourage those levels to include goals that are more encompassing, reduce the failure rate or increase the percentage of students who earn credit in the most rigorous curriculum.
An elementary school goal that says "We will increase the percentage of students who meet proficiency standards in reading on the district assessment or state assessment" is a goal that every grade level can address. If third grade had 84 percent proficient and first grade had 68 percent proficient, both know that their goal must be 84+ percent and 68+ percent. If the school establishes a more specific goal such as "We want to increase the overall percentage of students demonstrating proficiency to 80 percent," third grade doesn’t have to improve and could even decline and still meet the goal. If a middle school says "We want to decrease the percentage of Fs," a Physical Education team that had 4 percent Fs can contribute, but so can an Algebra team that had a 18 percent failure rate. If a high school says "We want more students demonstrating proficiency in our most rigorous curriculum," the Spanish team can develop steps to encourage more students to pursue upper-level Spanish classes while the U.S. History team can create a plan to increase enrollment in AP U.S. History. The school and district goals can be general enough that every team can establish and contribute to more specific team goals.
I would not have teams pick and choose among goals because then the school does not have a coordinated effort. If I couldn’t have every team in an elementary school focus on both language arts and math, I would rather have the entire elementary school focus on math or language arts than have some teams focus on math and others on language arts. Similarly, I would want all teams to contribute to reducing the failure rate than some focus on that while others pursue different goals. There is power in collective learning.
Finally, two more cautions. Avoid esoteric goals that are impossible to measure such as "We want our students to be lifelong learners." A goal is not a goal until you can establish the indicators you will track to measure progress. The pursuit of goals should provide us with the evidence we need to monitor, adjust, and improve our practice. Finally, avoid such narrow goals that you can accomplish the goal, but students actually learn less. A team that says "Our goal is to improve student achievement in capitalization" can achieve the goal even though student performance in language arts actually declines. A goal like that is fine as an interim goal for a specific unit, but not effective as a team goal for the year.