Goal Keepers, Part 2 of 3

In this three-part set of posts about goals, I explore the general concept of goal setting and action stepping, and I drill down more specifically into my school’s new vision statement, Learning for Life, as well as my own professional goals for the year, which are a part of my school’s Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan.

Recently, after completing our 2010 SACS-SAIS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Southern Association of Independent Schools) self-study, and during engagement with our ongoing strategic planning as a school, a faculty-administration committee drafted our new vision statement, Learning for Life. In late Spring of 2011, the Westminster board, administration, and faculty overwhelmingly endorsed the new vision statement. A copy of the document can be accessed below via Scribd, and you can read a recent Westminster Magazine article about the vision here (see President’s Remarks on pages 2-3 and Cover Story on pages 6-11 of the pdf).

In a nutshell, I am thrilled about the Learning for Life vision statement! In 2011-12, I will be excited to pursue deeper understanding and implementation of such pedagogical practices as project-based learning and problem-based learning (PBL), integrated studies, and balanced assessment. I am charged up, full of creative tension, to explore schedules and spaces that promote deep learning; to work with my colleagues, students, and parents in learning teams; and to connect globally with the countless “teachers” who can help us achieve our vision.

On the ground, with sleeves rolled up, how are we going to achieve our vision, Learning for Life? Among a multitude of efforts aimed to make our vision our new current reality, I believe a community full of creative tension lies at the center. All of the people I work with want to do our best to enhance learning – what a great trait to possess at the outset and all along the way! To close the gap between our existing current reality and our new vision, we at Westminster have our developing Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan to help structure our paths, our undertakings, and our desire to improve and enhance learning. The plan has five, integrated and interwoven parts:

  • Goals and Self-Assessment
  • Peer Visits and Observations
  • Administrative Observations
  • Student Course Feedback
  • Feedback from Duties “Outside the Classroom”

During the development of our FAAR plan, a colleague and I made the following video to help explain the philosophical underpinnings of our professional learning framework.

In essence, our FAAR Plan encourages us, as faculty and administration – WE, not “us” and “them” – to set goals that are going to help us learn how to educate in increasingly enhanced ways while pursuing our collective vision as a school. The other four component pieces of the FAAR Plan are supposed to work as a system, in conjunction with our goals and self-assessment, to provide us with feedback (like that reflective mirror and our biological feedback systems mentioned in “Goal Keepers, Part 1 of 3”) which helps us see if our creative tension is steering us to reaching and achieving our goals and vision. From the feedback, if we realize our actions are not steering us closer to our vision, we can adjust course and re-direct our paths.

If you are a reader from Westminster’s faculty and administration, I hope you will carefully reflect during your self-assessment process and establish a primary goal which will motivate you, and all of us, to strive for and achieve the elements of our Learning for Life vision. What’s more, I hope you will utilize your feedback pieces as a whole system to collect and analyze the data which can come back to you from self and others in order to signal how “on target” our efforts and actions are to achieving our vision. Engaging with the FAAR Plan can be so much more than “jumping through bureaucratic hoops.” Engaging with the FAAR Plan can systematize and coordinate our individual efforts into collaborative actions that result in a realized vision – a vision for the best learning that we can provide for ourselves and our student learners.

What matters most is the mindset with which we take on this challenge! What is your mindset going to be? Will you employ a growth mindset? Will you engage with our professional learning plan in such ways that you are energized with creative tension? Will you collaborate with others so that we can work as a team to take on this exciting and invigorating journey as educators and as learners?

I hope you will! I hope you will help me stay focused as both a leader and as a participant team member. It’s about what’s best for our students! It’s about learning!

Goal Keepers, Part 1 of 3

In this three-part set of posts about goals, I explore the general concept of goal setting and action stepping, and I drill down more specifically into my school’s new vision statement, Learning for Life, as well as my own professional goals for the year, which are a part of my school’s Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan.

For much of my life, I played soccer. I was a goal keeper. Growing up, being a goal keeper was a major component of my identity. For whatever reason, I never really liked the term “goalie.” I far prefer “goal keeper.” I do wonder sometimes if my strong self-concept as a goal keeper has anything to do now with my strong feelings about keeping goals.

What are you goals? Do you practice the habit of setting goals and establishing action steps to achieve those goals? Do you enlist support from a circle of friends – a team – to help you reach your goals, or do you tend to go it alone? Do you choose your goals carefully and thoughtfully so that you feel the energy to achieve your goals – an energy referred to as creative tension?

In Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, Senge explained the concept of “creative tension.”

But the gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there was no gap, there would be no need for any action to move toward the vision. Indeed, the gap is the source of creative energy. We call this gap creative tension (Amazon Kindle App location 2430 of 7726).

In fact, we often take for granted how goal-oriented we actually are – closing the gap between a current reality and a vision confronts us countless times everyday in simple, as well as complex ways. Consider just a few of the simple cases:

  • When we look in the mirror in the morning to comb our hair or apply makeup, we are comparing our current reality to a vision we have for our appearance. We attempt to close the gap by grooming and primping. Feedback from our reflection in the mirror becomes critical.
  • When we run or bike, we have a current location, or current reality, and we seek to change our location to achieve our goal, or vision, destination. Some of the best runners and cyclists in the world choose hundreds of intermediate goal or vision locations along the way – “I can make it to that next telephone pole or tree in x seconds.” Feedback from our biology (breathing, muscle ache, etc.), and from our will power, becomes critical as we strive to reach our goal.

Of course, our professional learning takes on similar paradigms, albeit in more complex ways, as we attempt to alter our current reality to reach and achieve our goal or vision. Perhaps we have been practicing assessment plans that are more summative in nature – we have developed habits of testing at the ends of units to record a grade in a grade book. Maybe we want to utilize more formative assessment in our strategies to assess student learning, so we set goals about learning more about balanced assessment systems. We may establish action steps to achieve our goal, like reading about formative assessment and practicing more formative assessment strategies with our colleagues and with our student learners.

As we work to achieve our goals, the gap between our current reality and our vision becomes the source of learning – it is in the gap that we can explore creative ways to stretch ourselves toward our set vision. Again, in The Fifth Discipline, Senge reasoned:

Imagine a rubber band, stretched between your vision and current reality. When stretched, the rubber band creates tension, representing the tension between vision and current reality. What does tension seek? Resolution or release. There are only two possible ways for the tension to resolve itself: pull reality toward the vision or pull the vision toward reality. Which occurs will depend on whether we hold steady to the vision.

The principle of creative tension is the central principle of personal mastery, integrating all elements of the discipline. Yet, it is easily misunderstood. For example, the very term “tension” suggests anxiety or stress. But creative tension doesn’t feel any particular way. It is the force that comes into play at the moment when we acknowledge a vision that is at odds with current reality (Amazon Kindle App location 2440 of 7726).

Often times, if not EVERY time, a first stage of dealing with creative tension is just trying something new. In the following, short TED talk by Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days, Cutts encourages us to shrink the change (a la the Heath brothers in Switch) by running a 30-day experiment in which we change our current reality by striving toward a new vision for ourselves.

But are there points of advice for becoming successful in striving for and reaching our goals and new visions? Of course! The points of advice can be found in myriad, countless sources, and they are virtually innumerable. One of the best sets of advice, in my opinion, comes from Richard St. John in another short TED talk, Richard St. John’s 8 secrets of success:

In part 2 of this three-part series on goal keeping, I will post Westminster’s new vision statement, Learning for Life. Additionally, I will remind or reveal to readers the developing Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan, which is designed at its core to help us reach our vision as individual and interdependent professionals…and as a school. I am hopeful that other education professionals, as well as student and parent readers, may share their thoughts on our vision, FAAR plan, and my professional goals. Also, I am hopeful that other educators and professionals may share their systems for goal setting and vision accomplishment. To make our current reality snap toward our vision, we must all be goal setters, goal strivers, and goal keepers.

It’s about closing the gap between our current reality and our vision. It’s about exercising our creative tension. It’s about a growth mindset. It’s about learning.

Works Cited:

Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. Currency-Doubleday: Random House, 1990, 2006. Accessed via Amazon Kindle App.

Reflecting from aFAAR

In the Junior High, tis the season of conducting Student Course Feedback and, for some, it seems, completing Peer Visits – two of the five components of our Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) process. Additionally, a third component of our formative assessment plan – Admin Observation – has been occurring all year. After seeing the note “re-review and process Synergy 8 SCF” on our respective to-do lists for months, Jill Gough and I have finally spent five meetings of second period reviewing and reflecting on our Synergy 8 student course feedback (SCF). Not only did we re-review the feedback to reconsider how things went during the first-semester course, but we also revisited the data in May so that we could pre-plan more effectively for the next iteration of Synergy 8. As we returned to the SCF and discussed the results, we remembered connections in the data that linked to things we read in our peer visit summaries and admin observation notes. We were reminded that student course feedback does not exist by itself. The components of our FAAR process are not intended to be isolated, siloed pieces of professional learning. They can be wonderfully integrated and whole. Also, they are not intended to be summative or evaluative – they are not judgmental pieces of professional evaluation. They are meant to be formative…lenses through which we can view our teaching and learning so as to grow and develop as educators…so that we can adjust our course.

What’s more, by reviewing and reflecting together, we enhanced our field of view and gained richer understanding from the blend of each other’s varied perspectives and reactions. During each of the five periods that we engaged in this collaborative work, we would independently review the data and write to the prompts on the narrative summary tool (“option #2”) for reflecting on one’s SCF – one reflective prompt at a time. Then, we would read and discuss each other’s responses. While this took more time than working through the reflection alone, we both believe we benefitted immensely from the writing, sharing, and dialoguing. We missed things in our individual reflections, but very little fell through any cracks by canvassing the feedback as a team of critical friends.

To share our system of feedback, we decided to use an online, cloud-storage, sharing tool called “Box.” By using Box, we could design some simple webdocs that literally show and archive the connections among the feedback and reflections. Box has a number of great features, including the ability to tag documents post comments. To view our Box-stored system of feedback, please visit the “Synergy 8 – FAAR” folder.

Soon, our next collective endeavor will be to prepare our 2011-12 Goals and Self-Assessment (a fourth component of FAAR). Because we co-facilitate Synergy 8, we intend to employ the critical friends process again as we continue to prepare for our next team of Synergy learners. The manner in which we reviewed and reflected on our system of feedback has set up and primed our ability and enthusiasm to enhance the Synergy experience for the upcoming school year.

In addition to our course-specific questions, we are also engaged in thinking about some critical learning questions for ourselves and our FAAR process (and they may be good questions for you, too):

  • Can you learn more deeply reviewing feedback with a colleague? How can we assist each other in learning more deeply?
  • Have can we build a common understanding of the needs of our learners?  How can we find a richer understanding of ourselves as teammates and co-facilitators?
  • Do you have a team of critical friends? What feedback are you collecting and considering so that you can grow?
  • Would you learn more by sharing the results of your feedback with another for reflection and co-interpretation?  How will we grow and learn together if we are not sharing our struggles and our successes?
  • What have we learned from this process that we can facilitate for our younger learners next semester? How can we model and implement a richer reflection and critical friends system as part of the course?
NOTE: This post is cross-posted at Jill Gough’s Experiments in Learning by Doing.