I first heard the term “gaudy goal” at a summer conference last July.When I heard the name, it struck me as funny, but I didn’t give much thought to it, until recently. I have been helping to support and train teachers in our district through the TPEP process, and therefore I have been thinking a lot about goals again. The Webster definition of gaudy is “extravagantly bright or showy, typically so as to be tasteless”. I like it! Especially the tasteless part, I could have used this to describe most of my middle school outfits, however that is the part that applies the least to this scenario.
I went through the comprehensive Teacher Principal Evaluation Project two years ago. When I was setting my goals I was coached to define my goal in terms of percentages. I wrote things like “I want 80% of my students to meet proficient,” or “I want 5% of my students to be advanced, or make growth of at least two points on a rubric.” It seemed right at the time. The rubric used language such as “most, all or nearly all.” In my mind, my task was simply that I needed to define those terms. It was hard to wrap my brain around how I was supposed to set my goals, and it seemed like I got different messages from administrators, coaches, the WEA, and my colleagues about how to do it correctly.
I have been trying to figure out why it seems so hard to set these growth goals, and why different people have different ways they think it should be done. Helping colleagues through the same type of challenges has caused me to wrestle with the idea of what the goals are for, how to set them, and why we set them.
I started an internal debate as to how to advise others in setting goals using those three questions. First, what are the goals for? Well, the goals are supposed to help us monitor and improve student achievement and growth. This seems obvious, isn’t that our job just as teachers?
The second, how do I set a growth goal? I guess the best thing to do to set a growth goal is to see what my kids can and can’t do. To have some measure of where they are and where they are going. I also think the goals should be tied to some high-leverage learning in my classroom. Say, oh, the Common Core State Standards and/or any of the other standards I have outlined in my syllabus. I should set my goal around those. Wait, isn’t that our job as every day teachers, to try to get kids to reach higher levels of performance according to the standards outlined for our course or grade level?
And lastly, why do we set growth goals? I can only say we are setting growth goals to be transparent. We are taking what we do and putting it in writing. I got to thinking about what my real purpose of coming to school is every day and it appears it is a gaudy student growth goal.
I will tell anyone any day that my mission is to have EVERY STUDENT in my classroom grow to meet proficient and advanced in ALL the standards outlined in my course. This is why I get up in the morning and it is the ultimate goal of every day. That is a pretty extravagant goal.
Never ever has every single one of my students become proficient in all of the standards outlined in my course, or even the ones I am hitting on that day. Never ever, because never ever have I had every single student start out in my course having met all the standards required in the course ahead of mine. But this doesn’t change my goal. My goal is still to get all of them as close as possible.
So how does this work out when it’s time for evaluation? Well, when I meet with my evaluator we talk about it. We discuss if the measure of students I have shown growth for is all, nearly all, most, some, or less than that. We will define those terms then, when we are defining my work and my goals throughout the year. Hopefully this meeting is early enough that I can even continue to work on growth for the students who are not yet achieving proficiency. This meeting will be about my failure to reach the goal for sure. However, it will be helpful for my students, and myself, to have a focus to finish out my year. Even if nearly all is achieved and I receive a distinguished rating on my goal, I will have failed with a couple of them, and it will be worth my time to think about how to keep on trying. This is when the goal will become real.
So to answer the questions more clearly, the goals are for keeping us focused on student growth, we should set them according to our high-leverage standards, and we set them so that every students can leave our courses ready for what’s next.
I will still set extravagant, bright, showy, and–to some–tasteless goals, and I will get as close as I can but I will fail every time. Now that is gaudy.