Most schools now use SMART goals of some kind. The exact terms vary, but SMART usually stands for something like:
- Specific—the goal is tightly focused on a single area
- Measurable—there’s a specific numerical target that defines success
- Attainable—the goal is something we can reasonably achieve, with sufficient effort
- Relevant—the goal matters in the larger picture
- Time-bound—there’s a deadline by which the goal must be met
I’ll be honest: I have mixed feelings about SMART goals, and I’m guessing you have mixed feelings based on your experience, too.
My first issue is this: too often, in our drive to help people focus and get more specific and more measurable in their goal-setting, we eliminate the part that matters most: the reason we care in the first place.
As educators, we’re driven by the desire to make a difference in the lives of our students.
We want to inspire them.
We want them to take challenging courses.
We want them to graduate.
We want them to go on to great careers and colleges.
We want to see them soar.
(Notice a theme?)
We’re not so fired up about helping them move from an average of 63% on the pre-test to 82% on the post-test.
Tell me if it feels this way to you, too: the more specific the goal, the less it seems to really matter in the grand scheme of things.
And that’s not all that bothers me about SMART goals. Too often, they’re simply quantifications of magical thinking.
Do we have any specific reason to believe that our students will go from 63% to 82%?
Too often, the answer is no.
We need to ask ourselves: What we are we doing on a daily basis to create progress toward our target?
What actions can I take every day—and what can I specifically do today—to have a realistic shot at my goal?
SMART goals aren’t bad, but they aren’t sufficient. They aren’t motivating enough, and they aren’t actionable enough.
But it’s not too hard to complete the puzzle.
When we do, we end up with SMART goals in the middle of a model that looks like this:
Let’s look at each component.
Uncompromising Goals: Our Greater Purpose for Students
Ultimately, we need to be guided by our GPS: our Greater Purpose for Students.
Take any educator, move him or her to another school, and their SMART goals will be totally irrelevant. But their Uncompromising Goals will remain the same, because they’re what drive us as professionals.
Your GPS is the reason behind your SMART goals, and the reason you work so hard to develop habits for high performance.
Uncompromising Goals are the big-picture goals we’ll always be working toward. They’re what holds our focus—what keeps our eye on the prize.
Focusing on Uncompromising Goals is motivating…but it can also be a bit pie-in-the-sky. We need to have a lofty vision—dreams of our students soaring—but we don’t need our heads in the clouds all the time.
That’s where SMART goals can help us out.
SMART Goals: Monitoring and Validation
SMART goals help us keep realistic track of our progress, validate our theory of action, and adjust our effort as necessary.
When we have specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound goals, we’ll know pretty quickly if we’re off-track.
If you’re training for a marathon by walking your dog around the block twice a day, you’re probably deluding yourself. That level of effort simply isn’t going to produce the level of results you want.
So a more realistic plan would have you working up to longer and longer runs, culminating in the 26.2-mile marathon itself.
If a five-mile run pushes you utterly to your limits, you’ll know you aren’t ready yet. It’ll take more time and more training to reach your goal.
The key to using SMART goals effectively is to use them in the short term.
Too often, though, our SMART goals cover the whole year, which doesn’t give us the agility we need to adjust the plan.
If our approach is way off, and we don’t find out until June, we’ve missed a year full of opportunities to adjust.
High-Performance Habits: Building Our Muscles Every Day
Uncompromising Goals and SMART goals can get us moving and get us focused, but they’re not directly achievable.
You can’t wake up in the morning and do a goal. We achieve our goals through our behavior—through the actions we take.
And there’s no better way to achieve a goal that you’re focused on than to take consistent, concerted action every day. That’s what I call high-performance habits.
A high-performance habit incorporates the other two elements of the High Performance Triangle: strategy and tools.
Strategy determines our effectiveness; tools increase our efficiency; and habits create consistency.
More on Goals
As you can see, I’m fired up about this topic, because it has enormous potential for our students, staff, and schools. I’m cooking something up right now, and I’ll probably take this article offline after my new goal-setting materials are ready.
To make sure you don’t miss out, put yourself on the list here.