It’s that time again. Yes, it’s time for a fresh start toward becoming a better you. It’s a chance to become a better leader, a better teacher, a better parent, a better runner, and/or a better cook. Humans have been setting goals at the start of the new calendar year for thousands of years. And yet, statistically speaking only 9.2% of us will actually achieve our goals. I believe this low success rate is due to poor process and planning.
In school settings, we often set goals around a very different calendar—the start of each new school year. Have you ever asked yourself why? What if we used the new calendar year to reflect on the first four to five months of the school year and then turned our attention towards setting goals through the end of the school year? How might we best use the remainder of the school year to achieve positive outcomes instead of looking to “next school year”? I believe that starting now is better than starting later. For example, this past November I decided I wanted to start a healthier eating and exercise regime. I could have pushed it off to the “new year”, but instead I just started. And the results were worth it! I dropped 10 pounds even after making it through the calorie-rich holiday party season!
To adequately set goals, you will need to set aside time for the process and find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. If you have a favorite place where you do your best work, then definitely use that space. If you can’t find one at school, then perhaps head off campus to a coffee shop. If your schedule/admin regulations don’t allow for that, then I’d suggest doing this on the weekend at a time and place where you can work uninterrupted in at least 45-minute stretches.
Before I even begin goal setting, I like to use a three-step process that takes me no more than 45 minutes to accomplish. This first phase of goal setting lays the foundation for informed and detailed goals that you will definitely want to accomplish. It’s also a great opportunity to simply pause and think. As a leader, I find it’s challenging to do that as frequently as I would like to. The tyranny of the “urgent” often gets in my way of reflecting on a daily basis as well as making sure I’m focused on goal attainment.
Reflect on your wins (10 minutes)
As busy leaders, we don’t often focus on what we did well, but rather, we focus on what we didn’t get right. We didn’t implement the new math curriculum with fidelity; we didn’t get staff using the new Chromebooks effectively; we didn’t reduce absenteeism, and so on. That’s because it’s much easier to look for what we didn’t accomplish when we are trying to achieve so much. I don’t believe it’s because we’re pessimistic at heart. Rather, as leaders, we have so many different things on our plates at any given moment that it’s difficult to pause and celebrate what we accomplished.
Additionally, we often have our stakeholders telling us everything we’re not doing well. Teachers may be disgruntled about issues ranging from class size, to behavioral issues, to resources. Some of these issues you may have control over, while often it’s the case that we do not. Parents may be upset over a myriad of issues which often make their way to your desk. Your supervisor may not be satisfied with the academic achievement at your site or within your department. It’s a challenge to serve so many stakeholders and it can be rare when they celebrate our wins with us.
What I want you to do is flip this concept on its head. First, take out a piece of paper, grab your journal, or fire up a Google Doc, then set a 5-10 minute timer on your phone. Use this period of time brainstorming everything that has gone well since the start of the school year. I encourage you to look for the bright spots no matter how small! Examples could include a new teacher becoming better at classroom management with your guidance, a student coming up and giving you a hug when you conducted a campus tour, or a school board member personally thanking you for your work. You will find it takes a minute or two to get into the rhythm, but then it starts flowing.
Reflect on what didn’t work (10 minutes)
Now that you’ve found all of the bright spots in your work, it’s time for an easier exercise. I want you to set another timer and begin writing down all of the things that didn’t work out since the start of the school year. I don’t want you to waste time thinking about the why. Rather, use this cathartic exercise for what it is intended to be—getting it all out.
I probably don’t have to give you examples for this one, but I’ll share one of my own. This past fall, I wasn’t able to accomplish many of my goals that I had set for the remainder of the calendar year because I agreed to go on the road for EdTechTeam in September and October. While I enjoyed working with teachers and students both in the U.S. and internationally, my goals were pushed out to the point where I forgot about them, or they were not a priority as other issues bubbled to top priority. I was frustrated, but I was the only one to blame. Additionally, I felt like I let some of my team members down.
K.I.S.S. (15-25 minutes)
You probably know the acronym above as “Keep it simple stupid!” In this case, the acronym stands for Keep Improve Stop Start. This will take a bit more time than the prior exercises, but I promise it’s worth it.
First, I want you to think about everything you are doing that is working. Is the new staff meeting format working out well? Is engagement higher? Are the Friday email updates to your staff minimizing the time you spend on trivial things freeing you up for discussions about teaching and learning? Are your staff more comfortable with classroom walk throughs now that you’re out from behind your desk and in classrooms? Great! Once you determine if your current habits, processes and mindsets are working you can decide if you want to keep them as continuing goals.
Second, I want you to think about what you would improve. Is there something you set out to accomplish that was almost great, but just needs some tweaking or modification? Great ideas can spark at a moment’s notice but you may not have the resources, time or support to enact them as solutions or improvements. Determine what those may be and find ways to implement these new processes or procedures to accomplish your goals.
Third, I want you to think about this question: what will you stop doing? What are the things you will stop doing through the end of the year that are counterproductive and might hinder goal achievement?
- Are you staying too late at school and it’s impacting your home life?
- Are you micro-managing a staff member?
- Are you feeling overwhelmed?
- Are you spending time on things that don’t improve the community at your school or district?
- Are you spending time on activities that don’t empower teachers?
- Are you avoiding prioritizing your day?
- Are you avoiding difficult decisions?
- Do you criticize yourself?
- Are you saying yes to everything? You can do anything you want, but you can’t do it all.
I want you to take the time to be vulnerable and honest with yourself. It’s time to take off your armor and have a tough conversation with your own worst critic. What are you doing in your days, weeks, and months that is counterproductive to yourself, your family, and your stakeholders? I know this is a tough exercise, but once you acknowledge what you need to stop doing you can focus on what you can START doing.
Finally, what will you start doing for the remainder of the school year? I want you to think about all of the possibilities for your school, your community, and your life. I want you to think about all of the positive habits that you want to form. Now, I want you to write down as many of those ideas as possible. Here are some of my own:
- I will start using the digital well-being feature on my phone to limit social media in order to spend more time with my family.
- I will commit to reading more books about leadership along with fiction.
- I will start a leadership podcast in 2019.
- I will drink 10 glasses of water a day in order to be adequately hydrated.
- I will stop and smell the roses.
- I will express gratitude for others in my work and home life.
- I will commit to working out at the gym four days per week.
- I will take a yoga class at my wife’s prodding 🙂
- I will learn to become a great photographer.
- I will blog more.
You’re off to a great start! Doesn’t it feel great to stop and reflect on where you’ve been, while also taking the time to think about where you want to go? In our next post, I’ll dive into goal setting and how to set up a structure for goal achievement. Between now and next week, I’d like you to think about goals you want to achieve between now and the end of the school year. Your goals might be informed by the process you completed today, or you may have additional goals you want to accomplish. The key is to start writing them down! This way you’ll be able to pull together a list that you can work from.
Chris Bell is a former teacher, school leader, and district administrator in K-12 now supporting educators to transform learning experiences for all students! Book hoarder, professional learner, executive officer, and always looking for new and interesting challenges.