I remember my first year as a curriculum director. I had only been out of the classroom for a few months but had found a renewed passion for my work as I was learning new things every day. It was around that time that I had found Twitter as a means for connecting with other educational leaders and as a way of accessing a plethora of blogs, articles, and ideas from the field. I was so excited to share this free resource with teachers in my district. I was talking to a group of first-grade teachers, sharing my excitement and saying, “literally in 15 minutes, I can find something that adds value to my learning.” One of the ladies looked at me and replied, “you expect me to do that on my own time?” I was so taken aback by that response. First, I hadn’t placed any expectations on them. I had merely shared a new resource I’d found. Second, if you don’t have fifteen minutes of your own time to better your craft, maybe it’s time to seek a new profession. Sadly, that was my wake-up moment that not everyone possesses my drive for growth.
Around that same time, I was fortunate to attend the NCTE conference in Chicago. I have never been an English teacher, but that was one of the most valuable conferences I have ever attended. It was during one of those sessions that one of the presenters was talking about the benefit of journaling. I have never enjoyed journaling. It seemed tedious and I would get bogged down in the process and not gain the insight from the actual act that I was supposed to. But during that conference, I started to think about it in a new way. What if I started a blog? I would much rather type my thoughts than write them. What if this blog became the place that I journaled…reflected on all I was learning as a new curriculum director and the experiences I was having? My blog was born in November of 2011. Shortly after that, I scheduled 8am-9am every Monday on my calendar as reflection time. Sometimes a meeting would be scheduled during that time and I would have to push back my writing time, but the fact that it was on my calendar to begin with, helped me stay intentional about it. My blog was a place for me to process and share. It was mainly for me, but if someone else could benefit from my thoughts and experiences, then that was a bonus.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely reflected when I was a classroom teacher, but it was mostly what I like to call, “reflection-on-the-fly”. I would reflect on a lesson and make notes of things to change, or areas that I needed to reteach. I reflected on student data in order to differentiate my instruction. I would even reflect with a colleague in the hallway about lessons that worked or those that didn’t. I rarely, however, sat at my desk in a period of intentional reflection..reflection centered around a goal that was meant to drive my growth.
Now, as an educational consultant, I work with teachers, principals, and district leaders all over the world. Most of my work involves job-embedded coaching where the people I’m working with get individualized professional development opportunities. One of the earliest things we do together is set a goal for that school year. Now, listen, as a teacher and as a curriculum director, I had to write a SMART goal every year. I had to submit the goal to my boss but it was never mentioned beyond that. No one followed up to see how I was doing with accomplishing my goal. No one checked to see if I needed some type of outside support to reach my goal. No one even helped me to know if I had written an accurate and attainable goal. It was just one more box to check off at the beginning of the school year. Those goals were basically pointless. My students came, and some arbitrary goal that I had written as a requirement got pushed down the priority list until it was all but forgotten. I’m not talking about writing those kinds of goals.
Fortunately, through my current work, I have discovered a much more successful path for writing and reaching goals. There are basically five keys to driving personal growth.
- Write a SMART goal: To me, the most important part of the goal for growth is the “measurable” part. It makes the goal more focused and less likely to be something vague. I once had a teacher write, “…to measure my progress, I will watch my students grow in their problem-solving skills.” How do you do that? I can’t focus on growth efforts, or reflect on progress when I don’t know what I’m measuring.
- Write two-three immediate action steps with dates as deadlines: These action steps are just as important to learning and growth as the actual goal. As soon as the goal is written (and often, revised) write two or three things that you will do that will immediately aid in working toward that goal. And then put “due dates” beside them. It’s way too easy to write a goal, and then get slammed with everything else and not actually start working on that goal. The action steps are what will initially drive the growth. This the first step to new learning.
- Share them with someone, ideally a coach: Accountability partners work for a reason. If you are fortunate enough to have a coach to work with (and everyone can benefit from a coach!), then share your goal document with them. If not, find a trusted colleague to be your person. They can be as involved or not as you want. The purpose is having that goal out there in the world so that you hold yourself more accountable.
- Schedule times for intentional reflection: Reflection is the most important aspect of driving personal growth. I’ve found that if it’s not written on the calendar, it just doesn’t happen at the level deep enough to cause change and growth. This is a time to be really real with yourself. Ideally, this happens with that coach or trusted colleague. They don’t even have to drive the conversation, but just be a place for you to talk, think, and process what’s happening. What successes have you experienced? What challenges are still there? What can you change, learn, try to keep moving forward?
- Set more action steps: That reflection time is what helps you form the next set of action steps. Growth can only occur if you continue reflecting, learning, and moving forward. These action steps are the propellant.
These five steps help drive personal growth, but the desire must first be there. None of us should ever feel like we’ve learned all we need to learn. The desire to continue learning and growing is what keeps the excitement fresh and the passion alive.