We set goals within our own realm of possibility. But is this the best strategy?

At the moment, I’m thinking about school development planning. We set goals to achieve things, i.e. how to get more boys to enjoy writing or not drink too much tea in the day, to stub out bad habits and take up good ones.


And we ensure that our goals conform to my coaching principles: Goal, Reality, Options and Will (way forward). If we’re very good, we also set milestones to achieve along the way, which serves as a map of our pathways to achieve our goal. Now, all we need to do is the journey.


For a long time, teachers' aspirations tend to focus on; what the children are achieving are attaining more. As a leader, a key part of the goal-setting process with teachers is determining whether their goals are realistic. ‘I want this group to achieve these statements by the end of April’. I look at the evidence, data and books, and as well as the strength and weaknesses of the situation - to decide whether to go 'Yep, let’s do it’ or gently recommend a revised target. What could be wrong with such a pragmatic approach to the situation?


A study conducted by the Harvard Business School concluded that when overused. Goals can do more harm than good. The authors believe that in the business context, the negative side effects of too great a focus on goal setting include over-focus on one area while neglecting others, distorted risk evaluation and reduced intrinsic motivation. Extrapolated to an overly goal-driven teacher that might roughly translate to neglect the broad and balanced curriculum to the rigour of the SAT testing. Sounds about right?


However, the other problem is the converse one. We don’t want our goals to be pie in the sky, so we pore over predictions working out what is in the realm of possibility. But such formulae must base on norms and our genetic propensity means we’re likely to be better at delivering the curriculum to selected children.


My favourite quote, about setting goals is from Sir Ken Robinson - ‘For most of us, the problem isn’t we aim too high and fail.

It’s just the opposite: we aim too low and succeed.’