Setting Professional Development Goals and Tracking Your Progress
Professional learning goals — also known as professional development goals — are an important way to tend to your career as an educator. Unlike student learning objectives, setting professional development goals is all about you as an instructor. What do you need to learn about to improve your practice? It’s a broad yet essential question. Professional goals are designed to put you in the driver's seat to get what you need to do your best work. New teachers have different needs than veterans, so learning goals evolve over time.
One thing that doesn't change is the importance of setting professional development goals in the first place. Reflecting on your school and students' needs gives you insight into your role in the success of the whole community, while putting goals in writing focuses your attention on the steps to follow to achieve your aims. Your professional learning goals are the roadmap that will help you get where you want to be in your career.
5 Essential Goals for Every Educator
Because the possibilities for setting professional development goals are so broad, it can be challenging to know where to begin. If you're not sure what you want to work on this school year, you can't go wrong with these five areas:
Strengthen Your Teaching Skills: You might be an expert in your field, but there are varied techniques to learn to bring material to life for your students. Whether you focus on pedagogy or classroom management, there's always room to grow.
Build Your EdTech Toolkit: Do you know how to get the most out of your school's technology? Make it a point to learn about those new smart projectors and other hardware, or vow to explore a range of apps and programs that will keep kids engaged and let them learn on their own terms.
Reflect on Your Practice: Feeling overwhelmed? Carving out time simply to reflect on what's working and what's not can make a huge difference. Take notes about your lessons to tweak them in the future, or take 10 minutes at the end of each day to think about a single student and how you can meet her needs to help you focus.
Cultivate Relationships: One of the hardest parts of teaching is staying in touch with parents, so spend this year finding new ways to reach out, whether it's social media or a newsletter. If you're feeling isolated, consider reaching out to colleagues by starting a group chat or in-person study group to give each other advice.
Learn Something New: It's hard to teach something that you don't feel you're an expert in, so if an aspect of the curriculum has you stumped, vow to learn more about it. You can take formal courses, do some focused reading, or build a professional learning network to shore up your knowledge.
How to Set Achievable Goals
Once you have a general idea about what you want to accomplish this school year, the next step is to make sure your goals are actually achievable. One of the best ways to craft a goal that you can accomplish is to make it a SMART goal. This handy acronym reminds you that your goal should be:
To make sure your goal is achievable, it helps to focus on both the specifics and the time frame. For example, making your goal to "improve classroom management" isn't specific enough to guide you to success. Adding details will help create a path you can follow to make sure you complete the goal. To make a classroom management goal more specific, you could decide to "research and test one new classroom management strategy per week" instead.
Notice that the time factor included in the goal above also helps keep things realistic. You want to give yourself enough time to complete your goal as well as a rough timetable that gives you benchmarks along the way. Whether this means taking one graduate course or completing a 10-item reading list per year, be careful to craft your goal around your personal time constraints and resources to improve your odds of success.
How to Track Your Progress and Measure Your Achievement
To make sure you're on track to accomplish your professional learning goal, it's important to give yourself a timetable with benchmarks to follow (the T in SMART goals). To do this, break your goal into steps to follow, and give yourself deadlines for those steps. It often makes sense for these to be aligned to the school calendar; for instance, making your benchmarks coincide with grading periods or trimesters.
Once you've broken your goal into steps and given yourself benchmark due dates, add these items to your plan book or to-do list so you remember to complete them. Many teachers find it helpful to grade themselves when they grade their students, so consider giving yourself a grade on your progress when you fill out your students' report cards to hold yourself accountable.
It's also important to measure your success. That's easy to do when your goal is to complete structured coursework because someone else is grading you. For homegrown professional learning, you'll have to treat your classroom as a bit of a laboratory where you test new ideas and measure their success.
For example, take the classroom management goal mentioned above: "research and test one new classroom management strategy per week." This has weekly benchmarks built in, but how will you know if the test is shows the strategy was a good one or not? Gathering evidence is crucial. You could do this by taking notes on behavior each day, or tallying up the number of behavioral consequences you've given out and comparing them to your average. You might also consider having a colleague observe a lesson and offer feedback on your new strategy to see if it's really working as well as you think.
Setting professional development goals is an important way to make sure you're continually improving your practice. By taking the time to craft a specific goal, adhering to a timetable, and gathering evidence of your progress and success, you can make sure you accomplish whatever you set out to achieve in your classroom this year.
There are many ways to gather evidence, so choose a method that makes sense for your purposes. Keep records of your impressions and results so that you can make an informed decision about how well you've achieved your goal. Evidence is also crucial if your professional learning goals are part of a formal evaluation process with your school, so make tracking benchmarks and logging data something you do on a regular basis.