Setting Achievable Goals with Staff: 4 Proven Strategies for School Leaders

setting achievable goals

As the new year begins, goal setting is a popular topic of conversation. Unfortunately, setting goals is not the same as achieving them. Research from the University of Scranton suggests that 92% of people who set goals for the New Year fail to meet them. This isn’t great news for school leaders, who are tasked with both creating and reaching goals with their schools and staff. Still, setting achievable goals with your staff is possible—start with the four proven strategies below.

4 Successful Strategies for Setting Achievable Goals

Setting a goal is easy, but seeing it through to the end—despite obstacles, mistakes, and occasional failure—is not. Fortunately, these strategies will help your staff follow through to the finish line.

1. Uncover passion and purpose.

Want to know a key ingredient in goal achievement? Passion. People who reach their goals truly want to do so.  

It’s important to let your staff choose their own goals. Of course, their personal goals should be aligned with your school’s overall vision and mission. But what aspect of this mission is most exciting to the individual teacher? How would they love to contribute? And what improvements would they like to make in order to maximize their contribution?

Along with passion, purpose is a major factor in goal achievement. When an individual sees a purpose behind their goal, especially a self-transcendent purpose, they are more likely to achieve it. It’s likely that this rule of thumb is even more true of those who choose helping professions.

So, if your teachers understand how achieving their goal will benefit others (e.g., their students), they are more likely to stick with it. Ask questions like:

  • Why did you choose this goal?
  • Why does reaching this goal matter to you?
  • How do you think reaching this goal will benefit others (your students, colleagues, etc.)?

If your staff sets goals with passion and purpose, they’re likelier to persevere to the finish line.

2. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals, but don’t stop there.

You’ve probably heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals. These goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Yes, these are important components of setting achievable goals, but the S.M.A.R.T. formula alone isn’t enough.

Envisioning the goal is equally important. Ask your staff how they will know that their goal has been achieved. This goes beyond measurements and numbers. What will be different in the classroom? What will they see and hear? How will they feel?

Imagining what success will look like provides extra motivation, especially if the goal is fueled by passion and purpose.

3. Make a plan for overcoming obstacles.

Psychologist Gabriele Oettingen is responsible for much of the most groundbreaking work on goal achievement. In her research, she found TWO key strategies to successfully reaching goals:

(1) Mental Contrasting- Visualizing reaching a goal and imaging the obstacles that might stand in the way.

(2) Implementation Intentions- Planning for how you will overcome these obstacles.

From her research, Oettingen developed the acronym WOOP. WOOP stands for:

  • Wish- What would you like to achieve?
  • Outcome- Visualize how it would look/feel to reach this goal.
  • Obstacles- What might hold you back from achieving this goal (or what has held you back from achieving this goal in the past?)
  • Plan- If these obstacles occur, what will you do to overcome them? Write an if/then statement: If [obstacle] occurs, then I will [action].

Unexpected obstacles and feelings of discouragement are major reasons that people fail to reach their goals. Brainstorm potential obstacles and plan for their occurrence, and your staff will be prepared for success.

4. Incorporate regular check-ins and feedback.

Remember: Reaching goals is an ongoing process. It’s not simply a means to an end. Create opportunities to check in with your staff on their goals. What successes have they had so far? Have they encountered any obstacles? What are their next steps?

If you have monthly faculty meetings, this can be a good time for teachers to check in with an accountability partner. When you observe teachers, ask about the goal they’re working toward and (if applicable) provide relevant feedback. Encourage teachers to ask for support and advice as needed.

Final Thoughts: Setting Achievable Goals with Your Staff

Simply declaring a goal, no matter how pure our intentions, is not enough to bring it to fruition. Help your staff succeed by encouraging them to choose goals with passion and purpose, envision what success will look like, plan for potential obstacles, and regularly check-in throughout the process.

Completing a written goal setting reflection at an upcoming faculty meeting is one way to incorporate many of these strategies. Plus, psychology professor Gail Matthews found that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you put them in writing.

So, get to setting those goals with your staff—and achieving them too!

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