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?


2 thoughts on “The Art IN Goal-Setting

  1. Nice post, Megan.

    Ramos’ book is fascinating, and I particularly appreciated the visual clarity provided by his Gertrude Stein example. (Funny, I still see in my mind her walking with Picasso down the street with Picasso seeing the camouflage truck and the influence of that on his own art.)

    We are at a fault-line, with some more aware than others of what is changing and how quickly the “plates” are shifting.

    What I wonder about your “mash-up” idea is whether the goal setting process itself is an artistic endeavor. I think there is a creative process of which goal setting is a part. When you start examining what “design thinking” is, you might recognize your mash-up in its parts. There is a process of discovery, definition, then a lot of divergent thinking mixed with convergent idea construction and prototyping. Goal-setting is something that happens within that creative process.

    I love your italicized “mindsets.” I wonder if you might establish those as part of your culture’s “future thinking” mindset, in order to unleash the creativity that will ultimately include goal-setting.

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