Sunday, May 1, 2016

Breaking out of to-do list tunnel vision

I love my Moleskine notebook, even though people make fun of me for the stack of black, dated volumes on my desk in an age where it seems like there should be an app for this. My favorite part of the Bullet Journal system is the check-lists. I absolutely love checking off those little boxes, but sometimes I get caught up in the to-do-list and lose sight of what it's for.

I guess you could say I'm goal oriented. I even like SMART goals, which many educators have come to dread. Under the new state Teacher Evaluation Plan, we have to set goals for our students that must be:

Relevant and

That's why I started listening really closely when Charles Duhigg started talking about the problems with SMART goals. For one thing, people often just start focusing on whatever quantifiable goal they can get done and lose sight of the big picture. Their job becomes all about checking off boxes.

I can relate. I often find myself focussing on making phone calls, submitting P.O.s, filing paperwork with the State, entering data, making more check-lists, and other tasks that need to be done, because they are easy to measure and complete. Or I start a bunch of new initiatives: new rubrics, progress tracking and reporting systems, a kitchen crew, a fitness challenge, a Quiet Study and Support Center, tracking more and more data, without stopping to ask if all of this getting me closer to my real goal.

Wait, what's my real goal again?

The answer to the SMART goal dilemma, Duhigg says, is stretch goals: big audacious goals that will make sure our SMART goals are actually getting us where we want to go. Start with the big goal, says Duhigg, and write it at the top of the page, and then break it down into SMART goals. Our stretch goals don't need to be SMART. We use them as a guide to build a list of appropriate SMART goals.

So how's this for a stretch goal: To make every one of my students really ready for the college and/or career of their choice. A whole list of SMART goals could explode out of that one stretch goal: assess current college and career readiness of each student, determine areas of weakness, identify strategies to support each student, etc.

But hang on. Is that really an audacious goal? Isn't that what school is supposed to do?

That's the other problem with the SMART goal habit--the "A" makes us aim too low. High expectations is one of the key ingredients to student success, and we need to aim higher than we really expect people to attain.

So let's take it up a notch: We'll bring in at-risk students, and every one of them will exceed State benchmarks for college and career readiness. And taking it even further, they'll be like arrows shot from a bow, already on their way to making the world a better place.

I've had something like this in mind since the beginning, so I'm hoping that all of the initiatives we've started this year are moving us in the right direction, but I also know I need more focus in my day-to-day activities. I need a compass needle that will keep drawing me back to this goal when I get bogged down in the little stuff, something to re-calibrate me every day as I make my check-lists.

And this is just one strand of my life that needs this. I need stretch goals for my family life, relationships, and physical and mental health. I need to remember that I started Crossfit for stress management and not to make fitness the focus of my life. I need to remember that as important as my job is to me, I'm really working, first and foremost, to support my family, so they can't take a back seat.

Getting bogged down in the minutiae can get us off track in life, plodding along with our eyes on the ground, only to finally turn our heads up and realize we've walked in a circle, tired, bored and burned out.

Every day, we need to start by asking ourselves: "Where am I headed, again? And why?" We need to break out of the tunnel vision, look around at the landscape, refocus on the goal in the distance, and ask, "Now, what do I need to do today to get closer?"

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