The Art IN Goal-Setting

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to best cultivate a culture of learning and growth at my school. An important step, in my opinion, is Trinity’s shift to a three-year evaluation system (a drastic improvement from the September – March evaluation system that has been in place for a number of years). Obviously, this is not the golden ticket, but it is progress.

At the moment, there’s a lot of excitement and a bit of anxiety about this new approach to goal-setting and evaluation, and I certainly understand both of these emotions. As I think about how much has changed (in the world and in my life) in just three years, I suspect that many members of the Trinity community are wondering…what exactly does a three-year goal look like in a future that feels a bit too uncertain? It’s something that will (and should) take a fair amount of thought to formulate and plan…and that’s why I am so grateful for the job I have. As I thought about this shift, I was reminded of chapter six in one of the most powerful books I read in 2010 called The Age of the Unthinkable. I wrote a post in November (Part I) about my initial thoughts and this post, “The Art IN Goal-Setting,” is Part II. I suspect there will be a  Part III at some point…the book is just that good.

Ramo opens the chapter with a brief history of Gertrude Stein, the girl from Allegheny. She was born in Pennsylvania but loved Europe at a young age because it was a place where she could witness the collision between old and new.

Stein returned to Europe in her twenties, settled in Paris, and quickly became a sort of den mother to the most successful artists and writers and dancers of her age. They were, she recognized, moving right along the fault line that riveted her, the one that separated Classical European way of life, with its balls, carriages, and Victorian sensibilities, from what she spotted around her, the dances of Nijinsky, the sentences of Joyce, the paintings of Braque (p. 104).

Sound familiar? Aren’t we all — as educators and learners — moving along this 21st century fault line…one where tradition and innovation cause friction and are often at odds in our schools?

This new world obsessed her. She loved the speed of the trains, the way Renault factories in Croissy worked around the clock, the hustle of immigrants on the Paris streets. Almost like a collector of great art, she began to collect great talent. Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and a dozen other great names of the revolution that became known as modernism. What made Stein so successful in this endeavor wasn’t only her ambition or her intellect or the strength of her own talent (which was debatable). It was that her way of thinking and seeing, her curiosity about the collision of old and new, was perfectly tuned for a moment when Europe was, cataclysmically, struggling with that collision. She was a woman alive to the great theme of her day, the at once violent, at once beautiful movement from one way of living to another (p. 104).

A new way of thinking and seeing + a three-year evaluation process. Ramo would argue for a mashup of the two because “mashups capture a sense of creativity that passes established borders, that combines a sense of deep, curious yearning with a hands-on, practical tinkerer’s spirit.” And he insists that “when these two are wedded, innovation becomes inevitable (p. 128).”

Does it make sense then to view goal-setting as an artistic endeavor? One that requires all of us to be alive to the great themes of our day? Something closer to a dynamic work of art? A mashup? If this is the case, then what does it look like? Here are my three thoughts…

  1. If goal setting is an artistic endeavor, my goals must emerge from my deep passion as an educator and my belief that facilitating learning is a calling, not just a job. I must have that deep, curious yearning.
  2. If goal setting is an artistic endeavor, then I must take risks and be open to inviting unexpected media into my work. Various people, tools, resources, and experiences can change the look and feel of my goals. I must adopt a practical, tinkerer’s spirit.
  3. If goal setting is an artistic endeavor, then I must allow myself to be creative and accept that a goal may or may not be accomplished in three years. I must accept that innovation doesn’t follow a traditional timeline.

What would you add to this list? Is there an art in goal-setting?


the3six5 post for 2/10/11

I had the honor of writing for a pretty big audience last week. According to Len and Daniel, founders of the the3six5 project, everyone has a story to tell. Here’s my story from Thursday, February 10th.

Run5On a quiet Thursday morning, during the busy month of February, the long line of cars ready themselves for early morning carpool on this, the 108th day of school.

The coffee pot in the teachers’ lounge has barely begun its work for the day as children emerge from their cars, quickly grabbing books and backpacks. The littlest ones slide out of the backseat, their legs too short to reach the well-worn brick below. As the doors close and the cars pull away, the wide-eyed young children begin their day.

Instead of pausing to enjoy the crisp winter air, they fix their eyes on the walkway ahead and run through the double-doors en route to their classrooms. They run with excitement to learn new things. They run with anticipation because a day of discovery awaits. They run with purpose to greet their teachers standing in the doorway. They run because they are happy.

As I watch the blur of backpacks fly by me, I think about my arrival at school this morning: I frantically pulled into my parking spot, quickly threw my computer bag over my shoulder, and, at the last second, grabbed my grandeextrahotskinnyvanillalatte from the cupholder. I glanced at my wrist to check the time and hurried into the building, already late for my first appointment.

As the day progresses, I think about the children who run to class. They delight in the unknown; I worry when things are out of my control. They see change as exhilarating; I often see change as threatening. They ask constant questions; I try to finish my day having formulated more answers than questions. And the funny thing is, like them, I love school. My days are filled with opportunities to learn new things. My days are filled with unexpected conversations and discoveries. I have a purpose. And I am happy.

They run. I hurry. Their joy is evident, and I wonder…is mine? There’s one thing I learned on this, the 108th day of school and that is to hurry less because it is only then that I can begin to delight in the unknown, learn to embrace change, and start asking the right questions.


About the author: Megan Howard spends her professional life on the east coast and her vacation life in California, putting her waking hours in perfect balance. As an educator, she learns life lessons from 5-year-olds on a regular basis. Follow her on Twitter at @mmhoward.

Emergent Relationships

In an effort to get my Google Reader account to a reasonable number after a month of workshops, epic snow/ice in Atlanta, birthday celebrations, and life in general, I came across a post on The LIFT blog, “How to Introduce Yourself: The Value of Emergent Relationships.” On the heels of a trip to Philadelphia for Educon 2.3 and after spending over an hour this afternoon watching the livestream Prototype Camp presentations coming from Columbus, Ohio, I was intrigued by this sentence:

Complexity theory tells us that when an element of a system changes in quality and the linkages between the elements change in quality, it is possible for a new system to emerge that has collective capacities found in none of the parts. — Ryan Quinn (@ryanwquinn)

Three days at Educon and today’s #prototypecamp presentations are, in a way, helping me realize that it may be  “possible for a new system to emerge that has collective capacities found in none of the parts.” We must understand the power of networked learning and create drastically different learning spaces if this is to happen, but I believe that a new system is possible, and we — and the students whom we serve — will be better for it.

As I followed the twitter stream from #prototypecamp, the following exchange between two good friends who were actually attending the live presentations caught my eye:

See another theme? These groups are leveraging value of places that matter to them (Facebook) to effect change. #prototypecampWed Feb 02 18:35:56 via TweetDeck

@deacs84 yep. they are leveraging virtual (facebook), physical (school space), as well as emotional (empathy). #prototypecampWed Feb 02 18:37:50 via HootSuite

In their quest “to use design thinking to solve real world problems about the future of learning,” these high school students  were leveraging the spaces that meant most to them to find solutions to actual problems. As I think about the spaces that mean the most to educators, what are they? If they are only the individual classrooms where they teach (or offices where they work), I worry about our capacity for change. How do we get educators to emerge from the egg-crate culture of teaching and learning? How do we get educators to experiment with personalized and networked learning? How can we help to create paths which lead to new, diverse learning spaces — and ultimately — change?