Going For The Goal

We live in a goal-centered culture. Our language is heavily laden with talk about goals. Long-term goals, short-term goals, strategic goals, and in the field of education: Student Learning Objectives, Course Goals.
During my emerging adulthood (18-25-years-old) I resisted writing lists and setting goals. I did not think it was a useful exercise. “What happens if I don’t reach my goal?”, I would ask myself. It seemed like I would be setting myself up for failure. I knew what I needed to do on a weekly, daily and monthly basis; it was all in my head and I could keep track of it that way.
It wasn’t until I began my career in Early Childhood Education (ECE)as a teacher,  that I began to see the value of goal-setting. ECE teachers are  required to set goals based on Developmentally Appropriate Practices.I realized that setting  goals and documenting children’s progress  with portfolios was extremely useful. This process informed my teaching and enabled me to better serve children and families.
I soon stopped resisting setting goals for myself. One of my first major goals was to return to college, complete my BA degree and earn an MA Degree.I shared this goal with my ex-husband and he encouraged me to “go for it”.  I was 27 years old when I returned to college. Athat time, it had been five years since I attended college.Soon after I returned,  we learned I was expecting our first child. So, I decided to postpone college for a while. Less than two years later, I gave birth to our second child. Again, I thought the timing wasn’t right, so I would wait. Two years later I divorced and became a single mother. Once again my dream of a higher education was put on the back burner as I worked and raised my children.  I thought, college could wait until my children were older. When they both were in elementary school, I enrolled for a night class. It was a bit challenging because I didn’t have consistent childcare. So I dropped the class.
For years, I kept telling my friends and family, “My goal is to return to college.” I faithfully wrote this goal as my New Years’ Resolution for years. One day,  after hearing me proclaim , “I want to return to college” a friend looked me squarely in the eyes and asked, “Which college, Sheila ?” “When?” I was stunned. No one had asked for such specificity before.  I had to come up with an answer, so I responded, “Pacific Oaks College.”  She  responded enthusiastically, ” So, let’s find out what you need to do to apply and  enroll”.  How about that? I thought. So we  proceeded to go to the website, make phone calls  to get more information. I began to get excited and actually see myself walk across the stage. I learned the more specific you are about your goal the better. Also, having a clear vision and a feeling attached to that vision, makes the goal crystallize in your mind.
Once I  identified the college I wanted to attend, made the necessary steps to apply, the process was seamless. I attended an  Information Meeting for Pacific Oaks College. I remember  the meeting facilitator, Gretchen Brooke said, ” so many times as women, (there were about 15 women in attendance, all 35 years old and older), we put our goals and plans on the back burner, we put our families’ needs, children’s needs, our spouses’ needs before our needs…now this is your time..” This was indeed my time and I was at the right place. Within six months I was sitting in class working on both my BA and MA simultaneously! My children were attending college and I was finally working on my own goal. 
At the beginning of each class, I ask students to write three specific learning goals for the 12 weeks of class. I share my story with students to illustrate the importance of goals, and how being specific catapults you towards your goal. Sometimes students write, ” I just want to pass the class” , I respond  to them with, “do you want to earn a C or an A?”. Other students write specific content-related goals, but they also write goals about  improving public speaking skills, overcoming being shy, meeting new people, and learning how to work in groups, learning about different cultures etc 
I check in with students following the Midterm to see how they are doing with their goals and how I can support them. As  the quarter comes to an end, they respond to five questions that are part of a Self-Evaluation of their performance in class. The goal-related  question is, “did you reach one or more of your learning goals, and if so, how, and if not, why not?” I can feel the excitement of students who reach their personal learning goals!
Over the years, I have received a lot of positive feedback from students about the goal-setting and self-evaluation exercises. I think for many students, this is just the confidence they need to “Go for the Goals” in other areas of their lives. 

One Response to “Going For The Goal”

  1. sasgary Says:

    Sheila, I love the specificity of your goal oriented questions to your students. For example, if the student just wants to pass the class, “do you want to earn a C or an A?” I’ve done something similar in my classes, where I have them write on an introductory index card what their reason for taking this class is. You version is much more specific and goal oriented in a way where its realization is visualized throughout the course. I am also inspired by your friends simple question of “which school, when?” A question so seemingly simple and matter of fact really connected with who you were. A question that sparked action and ignited a dormant dream into a reality with one simple first step. Thank you for sharing your experience and self evaluation method!

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