I cannot believe it is July 19th! Seriously, it feels like the month of July has flown by. My first day of school with students is August 10th, the official opening day for teachers is August 8th, and we also have “retreats” before that with some PDs at school. My summer is winding down quickly and I am in full back to school mode.
Last week, I was at training all week and had significant time to connect with other teachers. I had already made a list for a “Back to School” series I had planned on blogging about, but I was able to connect with a teacher who just finished her 1st year, and a teacher who is about to begin her 1st year which changed my plans a little bit! After talking with them it got me thinking about my first year experience, what I learned that was helpful (and not so helpful!), and what I still do today to “get ready” for my students. In the next few posts, I’m going to incorporate all of that in with my Back to School posts! I’ll be talking goal setting, behavior/investment plans, reflection (teacher and student), procedures, first days of school, etc. and hope that you’ll join in too!
Before I start, I want to explain a bit about my first year of teaching. I did not go to school to be a teacher (gasp!). I was a Political Science major who made my way to teaching through the Teach for America program. I became a teacher officially through Texas’ and my district’s Alternative Certification Program, and unofficially through much trial and error, support, and coaching. Part of how I view education and the practice of teaching is shaped by my time in Teach for America and by the core values and teaching practices that I learned with that organization. Some of what I’m going to talk about and reflect on in my Back to School posts are pillars of the TFA organization, and I want to communicate them as I think through them for my own classroom. If you want to read more about closing achievement gaps, or teacher effectiveness (with real world applications!), then I highly recommend Teaching As Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap* (affiliate link*). Now, back to it…
Today, I want to start with talking about How to Set Big Goals In Your Classroom.
With many things in life, if you don’t know where you’re going then you’re most likely not going to get there. This could not be more true with teaching. The best lessons, the best intentions, and the best classroom environment can only get you so far during a school year, especially if they are not in pursuit of your overall, end-of-year goals.
What I mean by “Big Goals”:
“Big Goals” are the academic, and personal goals you want your students to accomplish this year, particularly, by the end of the school year. You can set individual “big goals” with students, but having whole class big goals is a rallying point that can help focus your class all year. Your goals should be ambitious, but feasible, and able to be measured somehow (more on that in a bit…).
I set my initial big goals in the summer, even before I meet my students. After looking at historical data, I can at least have an idea of where the bar should be set in order to really push my students. This allows me to begin investing my students from day 1, and I can adjust the goals after they take their diagnostic assessment.
Why you need to set “Big Goals”:
Like I mentioned above, you can’t get somewhere, if you don’t know where you’re going.
Period. Yes, teachers can teach content until they’re blue in the face, or teach to “pass a test” but they have to have outlined in their own minds exactly what it is they want their students to be able to do overall, so they can plan the steps, and properly prioritize how to get each student there.
Also, if you happen to teach students who are academically behind, this is maybe even more important! Their growth goals and academic benchmarks are the same as other students traditionally with this era of state testing, so there is more work to be done in order to close achievement gaps and to catch them up. Using “big goals” in the classroom not only help the teacher, but also the students conceptualize where they’re headed, and can make learning feel more manageable for students who may have not been typically as successful in school.
How to do it:
- Set Your Initial Vision and Goals: First, you need to outline your vision for your classroom. What do you want your students to know, and learn, both academically and personally? Why are those specific goals important? Like I mentioned above, you need to set your initial big goals for your classroom based off historical data for your incoming students and what you know about your school community and the general backgrounds of your students. You should outline the goal, why that goal is important and how progress will be measured throughout the year (and why). Again, they should be feasible but ambitious. Don’t be afraid to dream big. This, paired with how you decide to invest kids in your class goals (more on that soon), can be very motivating for students!
- Give a Diagnostic Assessment: Giving a diagnostic assessment, or “pre-test”, is extremely important in order for you to gauge where your kids are academically. After you analyze the diagnostic results, you can adjust your big goals if necessary. Your diagnostic assessment should be aligned to your end of year assessment(s), is better if it is a recognized test (like a released state exam, or something that has been validated) and should have enough questions/opportunities for students to demonstrate their current understanding of standards (goal is about 5 questions each).
- Tracking: Once you understand where your kids are after giving the diagnostic assessment, and you know exactly where you want them to be at the end of they year, you need to ensure that you and your students have a meaningful, effective way to track progress throughout the year. The students should understand in a real way where they are in pursuit of the big goal, and you will be better prepared to get all students to the goal if you have a system in place that you can keep up with in tracking data (for yourself, and with the students).
- Talk About It: Once you have your goals outlined and you understand exactly what student success will look like in your classroom, then it is important that you remember to communicate it with your students! In a later post, I will discuss investing your kids in the class goals, but on a basic level, you need to make sure that early on your class goals are known. In my class, I always put the goals on a big bright poster in the classroom surrounded by the kids’ personal goals that they set on the 1st days of school. I try to reference the goals very often, if not daily. The poster stays up all year round and the students do reflection exercises on where they are in relation to their goals and our class goals (more on that soon!).
What makes good “Big Goals” (Examples):
- All students will average 80% on all standards learning goals
- This goal can be measured, is ambitious, but feasible and holds all kids to a high standard. This is a mastery goal.
- Students will grow by 2 years according to their Lexile level
- This goal can be measured, is ambitious, but feasible and holds all kids to a high standard. This is a growth goal.
- All students will apply to a magnet program for high school
- This goal can be measured, is ambitious, but feasible and holds all kids to a high standard. This is also a “personal” goal.
This is post 1 in the Back to School Series. To see post two click here.
p.s Want to start a teacher blog like this one? My friend, Suzi, wrote an ebook that can help you get started and grow your blog!