SMART Goal Setting Teacher Education

6 Best Practices for Professional Growth Goals

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” – Zig Ziglar

For many of you, another school year has come and gone.  Have you reflected on what professional or organizational goals you and your staff accomplished?  If you haven’t, you’re not alone.  A study in 2016 found that only 8% of people set and achieve their goals.  Yes, you read that correctly! 92% of us don’t set and achieve goals.  We want to help this number grow, starting with you!

The truth is, setting and reviewing professional growth goals is a rewarding process and is necessary to achieve professional growth.  Fortunately for you, we’ve condensed this process into 6 best practices for professional growth goals as outlined below.

  •  Professional Growth Goals should be collaborative, but teacher-driven.

In their 2010 book, Advancing the Three-Minute Walkthrough: Mastering Reflective Practice, Carolyn Downey and colleagues emphasize the importance of professional growth goals grounded not only in self-reflection, but also in reflective dialogue with administrators, coaches, and/or fellow teachers.  

  • Professional Growth Goals should be individualized.

This is pretty straight-forward. No two teachers should have the same professional learning goal. Boston Public Schools has some good examples and templates for professional growth goals and professional learning plans.

  • Professional Growth Goals should be based on information from various tools/processes.

When most people make big decisions, they seek information from a variety of sources and a variety of trusted people.  Professional growth is no different.  Professional growth goals should be derived from  a combination of self-assessment, walkthroughs, observations, student data, and reflective dialogue to name a few.

  • Professional Growth Goals should be written as a SMART goal.

In case you’ve never heard of a SMART goal, here is a general article about SMART goals and how to use them.

Check out this specific example of a SMART Professional Growth Goal.

Professional Growth Goals

  • Professional Growth Goal progress should be reviewed mid-year.

This moves the process from primarily summative to more formative. Nobody makes goal adjustments on information they don’t have! The review should be face-to-face, productive, and focused. Specific recommendations should come out of the meeting to help achieve the professional growth goal by the end of the school year.

  • Professional Learning Goals should be tethered to an individualized professional learning plan.

The professional learning plan should outline intentional activities designed to support learning of the educator in accordance with their individualized professional growth goal.  Think of it this way: The professional growth goal is the destination, and the professional learning plan is the roadmap to get there!


If you use these 6 best practices to guide professional growth goals, you’ll join the 8% of people who set and achieve their goals!


“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” – Yogi Berra


What is the purpose of your lesson? Did your students actually “get it”?

Why, exactly, are students spending time with you today?  What is it you want students to know, understand, and be be able to do as a result of this lesson and unit? Great teaching starts with a great reason to teach!

My favorite analogy to describe learning objectives (or lesson objectives, learning targets, learning goals, etc.) is to think about a GPS system.  Unless you are on summer break, it is not often that you get in your car and just start driving.  It’s even less often that you get in your car and the car decides to take you somewhere.  Instead, you take about 30 seconds and type in your destination.  Magically, the GPS system gives you turn by turn directions, and you can even look at the route in advance to know why the GPS system is taking you in a certain way.  Is there an accident on your typical route?  Perhaps a road is closed?  And what happens when you miss a turn or make a pit stop?  You receive specific and targeted feedback on how to stay on course.  Voila, you are at your destination!

How does this translate to the classroom?  Clear and specific (measurable even?) lesson objectives, teamed with effective checks for understanding and modifying instruction as needed, allow for students to know where they are going and when they have arrived.  Without a “road map” giving directions and feedback along the way, there is no ending.  Students will never know if they’ve gotten anywhere, let alone their destination. What’s just as important is the why.  Do students also know why they are spending time in school learning this?  Do they understand the significance and real-world application of the concepts being taught?

As simple as this sounds, the magic of these clear and specific lesson objectives comes from the teacher communicating them to the students.  Make it no secret – the students should know precisely what they are doing and why it is important.  Be explicit, and your students will take ownership of the learning themselves.

One simple and effective way of gauging how well students understand the purpose of the lesson is to ask them!  As an administrator, I made it routine at the end of each observation to ask a few students what they were doing and why.  I typically wrote the students’ answers in the feedback I sent teachers so they could read their students’ comments.  The student comments became an important part of my post-observation conversation with teachers.  If students are able to articulate the day’s learning, its impact, and its importance, there was clarity.  If students could not, it was time for me to ask more questions of the teacher to better understand why this might be.

Teachers can ask the exact same question at the end of a lesson, either as a quick exit slip, a short dialogue, or in some other way.

Are you allowing your students to know their final destination before even beginning the lesson, or are you having your students jump into the car without any idea of where they are going?

~Eric Bransteter