Goals are good. Actions are better.

By | August 22, 2011

As I’ve started each school year since I began teaching 20-ish years ago,1 I stopped and spent a little while reflecting on the year that came before and set goals for what I hoped to accomplish before the next May rolls around. These days, I’ve got the advantage of working on a great team with Bud and Kyle as we set our collective goals for the year.

There’s something about the process of negotiating through dozens of possible priorities to center on the essentials that appeals to me. For one, goal setting gives purpose to the work. Each action and task become part of a larger vision of what we’d like to accomplish. Conversely, goals also serve as reminders of what’s not essential. Sometimes2 the day-to-day work that consumes my time leads me no nearer to meeting the goals we’ve set. Having a set of goals to refer to when I’m bogged down in minutia allows me to either confirm I’m working on the right things or rethink where I should be spending my time.

Collective goal setting holds even more importance. As Kyle joined Bud and I this year, our time spent setting goals became an opportunity to orient all of us to our role in the district. The act of negotiating and articulating our individual priorities in a way that we could all agree on led to a better understanding of how we would work as a team.

However, as important as the goals seem, they’re not the most important part. Goals are only as visionary as the actions you take to make them true.

All too often, folks (including me) spend time talking about what needs fixing, but don’t spend enough time talking about what they’re doing to make it better.  From the news media to our political leaders, it’s become the norm to give the largest slice of attention to those who point out the flaws in education. To those with lofty goals and deep pockets for promoting them. Why? Do we truly value the pundits more than the practitioner?

I’d like to think that’s not the case.

In a meeting today that included representation from technology to curriculum to student services, we spent time looking at achievement data for the district and answering the question “How can you and your department make a difference?” It would be easy to brush off a low achievement score as the problem of another department, but ultimately we’re all responsible for turning the tide in education. Not just by confirming the diagnosis, but by offering to be a part of the cure.

To help recenter my own priorities, I’m going to focus more of my thinking and writing3 on actions. The things I’m seeing and hearing and trying that make a difference. The actions that make the goals become a reality. The folks who are in the middle of making it happen.

I’m hoping to find opportunities to ask, “What will you do to make a difference?” when I hear someone share what’s wrong with education. I’m hoping to ask myself that question more often too.

I won’t claim to have the answers, but I’ll offer to share what I learn along the way. I hope you’ll do the same. It seems a worthy goal for us all.

Note: I’ve posted a piece about our goal setting in St. Vrain on our Instructional Technology Blog. Check it out if you like.

  1. It certainly doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. Most of the time, I still feel like I’m still learning what it means to be a teacher. (Which, I think, is the way it should be.) []
  2. and for me lately, more often than I’d like []
  3. A good friend has reminded me often lately that I’ve got things to write about. I owe him thanks for continuing to remind me even when I protested. []


Chris on August 23, 2011 at 11:16 am.

Love the title of this post. I think it will be my mantra for a while.



Julie Cunningham on August 26, 2011 at 10:34 pm.

Sounds very much like you’re focusing on shipping, a la Seth Godin. I can’t wait to hear updates on what you shipped- what worked and what didn’t. Thanks for sharing your learning here!


Megan on March 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm.

When it comes to education, it’s all about action – of course, planning has to precede, but to get things done, you have to be comfortable and willing enough to go the extra mile. Thought I’d share this wonderful post about innovative ideas on how to use iPad technology in education:



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