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Are you a goal-setter or a goal-getter?

By: Dana Britt on December 17th, 2021

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Are you a goal-setter or a goal-getter?

Teachers  |  Organizational Leadership & Change Management  |  Strategic Planning

While I was teaching 9th grade English Language Arts, one of my mentor teachers shared the concept of the “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG) with me. Beyond a SMART goal, it’s a goal that you might collaboratively set – that is big, important, and maybe even a little bit of a stretch. That terminology clearly stuck with me (I think it was the hairy part – sorry, it’s now stuck with you as well). 


One of the greatest BHAG’s of my life was my attempt to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. This goal was big and audacious because it would be my first ever marathon and, since the course runs through northern Virginia and parts of DC, there is a time limit. If you’re not able to make it to the 14th Street Bridge at Mile 21 within a certain amount of time, there is a bus that collects you and you are unable to finish the race. But what made it truly “hairy” was that I started the race an hour late, in the rain. This led to a lot of sprinting when I should have been conserving energy, but I made it to the bridge in time and finished the race (with quite a bit of walking).


As a consultant at Education Elements, I support many of my school district partners as they create more responsive strategic plans and move towards a personalized learning environment. In other words, I help the key stakeholders set BHAGs – whether in the classroom or district wide – make plans to achieve them, and support them as they implement those plans.


Through all of this work in goal-setting, I’ve noticed that there are some key differences between goal-setters (those who frequently set goals) and goal-getters (those who accomplish the goals they’ve set out). 


Goal-getters don’t just set goals once per year.

It’s almost January, which is the time when most of us are thinking about setting New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never kept a single New Year’s Resolution that I’ve placed. A similar thing can happen with strategic plans. We set goals in our strategic plan and then we forget about them when we return to our “regular” work as teachers / educational leaders. We think that as soon as the strategic plan is published, that’s when we should start working towards our goal, when in reality we should be taking incremental steps from the beginning. Goal-getters don’t hold on to a “once a year” mindset for goals. They are constantly setting goals, coming up with easy ways to make progress to their goals, reflecting, and re-setting them.


Goal-getters focus most of their energy on the “why” of their goal.

When you’re in the middle of trying to achieve your marathon goal, and you’re an hour late, and you’re wearing a plastic garbage bag to try to keep the rain off you, and every muscle is screaming for you to stop, the only thing left to hold on to is that kernel of motivation for why you set this BHAG in the first place. Goal-getters have a deep understanding of their “why.” They’ve defined for themselves what success looks like and they have a “peak moment” in mind at all times. 


For me, that was the moment I would be handed my finisher’s medal. For teachers working towards a personalized learning rollout, that peak moment might be the first time a student can transition independently to their next choice activity. Or maybe it is the moment when the teacher walks up to various students and they can easily name what they are working on and why. 


In the middle of a professional development session, it can be hard to see the end in sight. But what impact do you want to see for your students that you haven’t been able to realize yet? Or what impact do you want to see on your teachers that they haven’t yet been able to realize?


Goal-getters share their goals with others.

Goal-getters set personal and professional goals. Goal-getters set short, medium and long-term goals. Goal-getters help others around them set and achieve goals. If you ask a goal-getter what’s something they are working toward, they can probably name a few things. In fact, they frequently share their goal and their progress with others. An app like Strava allows you to log your running sessions and receive kudos from your friends. In school districts, I see leaders and teachers using tools like VideoAsk and Flipgrid to have the colleagues and students share and reflect on their goals. If you are a school or teacher leader, check out this resource on goal-setting with students. If you are a district leader, this resource showcases how you can share updates on your strategic plan goals with your community. 


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About Dana Britt

Dana Britt is an Associate Partner focused on leading innovation in the state of New York. Prior to joining Education Elements in 2015, she worked in the District of Columbia Public Schools for six years, first as a high school English teacher, then in the district office as the manager of educational technology. In that role, she supported the district-level rollout of blended learning across 111 schools and built up a particular expertise in designing district-wide professional development and selecting, purchasing, and adopting new digital content and tools. At Education Elements, Dana has supported schools over 100 schools in 16 states. She has led the implementations of Fulton County Schools (GA), Syracuse City School District (NY), Marion Central School District (NY), and Waterloo Central School District (NY). Dana holds a B.A. in English from Wellesley College and an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation and Education from Harvard University. When not thinking about personalized learning, Dana enjoys rock climbing and training for her next marathon in Washington, DC.

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