Editorial - On your marks, get setting goals

3rd January 2014 at 00:00

Don't worry, I'm not going to do it - urge you to start afresh for the new year, that is. Countless others already have and I realise that you expect more from these pages.

I know that far from starting anew on 1 January, teachers in the northern hemisphere were already looking a bit jaded as the clock struck midnight to herald 2014, having kicked off their new school year a good few months back. And I know that even in the southern hemisphere, where the academic calendar is more closely aligned with the Gregorian one, teachers would be horrified if you tried to start their year on 1 January: most begin in late January and some don't go back until March.

So wishing you all a Happy New Year, and all the sentiment that goes with it, is a waste of time. If you're in the north, then talk of fresh starts and booze bans is just irritating: you've exhausted all your fresh-start tolerance already and taking away the booze would be about as welcome as a four-day training workshop on using algorithms for data management in planning procedure.

If you're in the south, after another year of overwork and underpay you're probably too deep in convalescence - or too demob delirious - to even begin thinking about the new year; you just want a nice sit down and to forget that education exists for a few weeks.

One element of the new year ethos I can write about, however, is goal- setting. Far from being the preserve of 1 January, this is part and parcel of everyday life.

For adults, short-term targets tend to be boring (aiming to get to the station on time for the morning commute, for example) and long-term ones wildly aspirational - hoping to become an astronaut, anyone? Children tend to be more innocent in their aims. They want simple things like sweets in their immediate futures, and aspire to being postmen or train drivers later on.

Teachers, of course, are master target-setters. Read that book, complete that question sheet, prepare that presentation, stop bitching, get to Friday without thumping anyone.And that's just the school leader during the staff meeting. When it comes to your students, the goals multiply.

So essential is goal-setting to teaching that you'd expect a plethora of guidance on the topic, with a library full of scientific research backing it up.

Apparently, that's not the case, according to Hal Hodson in this week's TES Professional. And among the few bits of research on the subject that are related to education, the majority haven't even been tested out in the classroom, which is a bit like trying to find the secrets of the female brain by doing an MRI scan on US rapper Chris Brown.

This dearth of assistance would be understandable if no other professions were looking into goal-setting. But in the business world, you can't even see the pink shirts and bloated egos for the sheer volume of goal-setting theories dominating your eye line.

Teachers need that sort of support. How can you in good faith set goals for students without any proof that what you are doing is right or effective - and, conversely, not having a detrimental effect? Clearly, goal-setting in education needs to be looked at with a fresh eye. It may not be a new year for educators but now is as good a time as any to do it.


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