A Simple Framework for Setting School Goals During a Pandemic

For individuals, teams, and organizations it is always helpful to have clarity on where you are going, how you intend to get there, and how you will know if you are making progress. This need is particularly acute during times of great uncertainty. Now, seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, is definitely one of those times. 

In a recent conversation with school district leaders, very frank concerns arose regarding whether our policy-makers and local school boards have established the right goals given our current context. While we know that having goals is generally beneficial, if they are unachievable or misaligned they can actually be demotivating and counterproductive.  

In my book Learner-Centered Leadership I included a section on how we approached goal-setting with the School Board that included the following recommendations:

  • Align goals with the vision, mission, and goals of the organization.
  • Be sure that the goals are measurable and time-bound. 
  • Minimize the number of goals.
  • If there are more than a few goals, place them in priority categories to provide focus and resources in the most important areas.
  • In cases where measurements don’t exist, make the creation of a baseline the goal target.
  • Regularly review progress relative to the goals with most frequency and intensity for those that were identified as the highest priority.

The recent conversations left me wondering what I might propose now as goals for a school district (or a school) that would still orient to broader aspirations and also be resonant in the current context.  Here are a few that came to mind:

  • 100% of all students will indicate that they are physically and emotionally safe.
  • 100% of all students will indicate that they have access to food and shelter.
  • 100% of all students will have a functional mobile device.
  • 100% of all students will have access to high-speed internet service.
  • 100% of all students are connected with a mentor/advisor from the school district.
  • 100% of all students have set goals for academic and social/emotional growth. 
  • 100% of all students will indicate that they collaborate with their peers. 
  • 100% of all students are actively engaged in solving at least one “real-world problem” (tied to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, for example). 
  • 100% of all students are making progress to achieve their goals. 

In reflecting on these potential goals and then considering a framework for prioritization, I remembered that during the early stages of COVID I developed a simple mental model that felt like an appropriate oversimplification of Maslow’s hierarchy.  

Using this prioritization model, a reorganization of the proposed goals might look like this:

Safety100% of all students will indicate that they are physically and emotionally safe.
100% of all students will indicate that they have ongoing access to food and housing security.
Access100% of all students will have a functional mobile device.
100% of all students will have access to high-speed internet service.
100% of all students are connected with a mentor/advisor from the school district.
100% of all students will indicate that they collaborate with their peers. 
Learning100% of all students have set goals for academic and social/emotional growth. 
100% of all students are actively engaged in solving at least one “real-world problem” (tied to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, for example). 
100% of all students are making progress to achieve their goals. 

Clearly, achieving these goals would require significant collaboration and partnership with community agencies (such as a collective impact model).  Right now local leaders are hard at work to ensure that students have devices and connectivity and there are some great ideas coming from leaders like Jessica Rosenworcel of the FCC that could accelerate our progress on this important equity issue.  

Notwithstanding the need for collective action, imagine how the orientation of a district or school would change if the focus were on ensuring that every student had a mentor/advisor who conducted regular check-ins? What if there was an explicit focus on developing collaborative experiences to keep students connected with one another? What if we balanced academic with social-emotional growth goals so that we developed our knowledge, habits and skills to prepare for lifelong learning? What if we focused our efforts on solving real-world problems and making the world a better place? 

I continue to believe that our students, families, teachers, staff members, administrators, and community partners can do amazing things when we work together.  Orienting our efforts around goals that matter feels like an important endeavor right now.  I’m not sure that this is a perfect framework or that these are perfect goals but I hope that it may inspire some reflection and spark creativity that helps us to set meaningful goals right now.  I look forward to your ideas. 

Check out  Learner-Centered Leadership and use #LCLeadership to continue the conversation

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