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SLO ProTips: Goal-Setting for Teachers

It’s October, and your classroom has begun to settle into their routines. It’s time for goal-setting. If they haven’t already, your administrator will soon be knocking at your door to hear about your plan for strengthening your instruction this year. Student Learning Objectives (or SLOs) are carefully-planned goals for what students will learn over the course of a year. The hope here is to spark critical, evidence-based thought to what is impacting student growth.

But this process is always intimidating, too, and tied to teacher performance. Setting such early goals for students you are just getting to know can feel overly ambitious and dubious. Fortunately, Education World has some tried-and-true advice for making the process both enriching and manageable. Check out our ProTips to make sure you get the most out of your SLOs this year.

Be Reasonable

Those new to SLO goal-setting tend to get a bit...ambitious. It’s always good to set lofty goals for yourself in the classroom and to have high expectations for your students, but you don’t want to set yourself up for failure, either. If your data is coming from a large adaptive standardized test, start by checking the norms. What is the usual growth for students in this area, at this grade level? If your data is coming from in-house assessments, similarly, take a moment to find out what the data has shown in the past. What is “reasonable growth?” Having confidence in your ability to move students can be a strength, but you need to set your goal relative to some sort of standard expectation, otherwise it’s just a shot in the dark, and too much rides on this decision. Examine the norm, and, if you know you’re going to do some focused strategy work in that area, feel free to set the bar a little bit higher. But never set ambitious goals without a strategy in place.

Another reason you might feel tempted to overshoot your goals is in response to our ever-looming achievement gap. You might think, “I can set ambitious goals for my students, but they don’t need to just ‘keep up,’ they need to ‘catch up,’ as well.” Talk this over with your school administrator. How is your school tackling the gap? Does your school have programs in place for raising reading or math scores by three grade levels each year, or are you embracing a growth mindset? Your goals should reflect the values of the school and its greater community.

Choosing the “What”

Choosing what kind of data you’d like to track for the year is always a tough call. On one hand, you’ll find yourself leaning toward skills and concepts you already consider a strength in your practice. It’ll guarantee student growth, and allow you to highlight an element of your pedagogy you’re already proud of. On the other hand, choosing this route might not model the professional growth SLOs were created to encourage. Choosing an area of your practice that hits upon a student need and also encourages you to develop a new set of skills is certainly riskier. With all your professional development in place, you’re still human. You might still struggle with your chosen focus area. And your summative data will reflect that.

Your best bet is to balance the two. You can have multiple SLOs. Choose one to monitor that one essential skill you’ve really nailed in the classroom. Choose another as an area for professional improvement, and identify it as such. With the latter, collecting multiple sets of data could tell a fuller narrative. For example, if your standardized test shows only a minute increase over the year, consider backing it up with your in-class assessments that show the progress you were looking for. The key is to show growth, and most administrators are willing to accept a variety of means to that end.

Use the Data You’re Already Collecting

You might be tempted to create your own independent rubrics and assessment for every SLO you create. And this might work for you. But you’re busy. And many schools across the world over-assess anyway, right? Check the data that is already being collected schoolwide. Does any of it align to your goals? Between your data teams, professional learning communities, state standardized tests, and in-house assessments, there is likely already something that is going to work for you. The data is there to be used. Find out how many data points your administration needs for the year, and align that to the assessments already on the calendar.

Use the Median

For some reason, we all tend to embrace the mean, and forget the median when looking at data sets. It makes sense. I’ll average the students in my courses, and make an SLO for the entire crew. The problem is, this approach ignores a very real truth of the modern day classroom: it’s full of outliers. There are many things well beyond the educator’s realm of control, from crises at home to social dynamics to behavioral challenges. These outliers can either greatly inflate or, sadly, sink your efforts for the year.

Using the median tempers the impact of your outlier students. It is often a better measure of central tendency for a large group like a grade level or a set of courses. You shouldn't be held accountable for every aspect of a student’s life. The median is simply a better summary of the work you do.

Schedule a Revision

Finally, make a plan to revise your SLOs mid-way through the year. Every group of students is different, and you never know how the year will progress. If your administration doesn’t already have a mid-year SLO check-in in place, be sure to take the initiative to schedule a revision. What is the data showing you so far? Are your original goals still reasonable? What adjustments do you need to make to your practice? Reset your goals, keep them rigorous, and have very specific strategies in place to make sure your students stay on that track until the close of the school year.


Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.