Wednesday, January 22, 2020

"Goal" is a Four-Letter Word

Whenever I hear someone talk about making and setting goals I cringe.  It's like someone running their nails across a blackboard.  I can't.  My mind races to all my goal-setting failures since I was old enough to remember.  Then my faith in myself gets shaken and my fear swells and I start to feel emotionally paralyzed.  Better to not set goals and like myself than to set goals and realize how weak I am, right?! It's been a battle and I'm still trying to find my balance. "Goal" is a four-letter word, a curse word, and mama taught me not to curse.

My understanding of "goals" started to change when I began teaching high school English and History classes.  When my youngest son started 2nd grade I found myself wanting to be more involved in the community and maybe even make a few extra dollars.  I was open to going back to work, at least part-time, when the charter high school my older children attended started asking for front desk receptionists through weekly emails sent out to parents.  I let the chance pass for a few weeks thinking the tug in my heart would go away and so would the job opening.  Neither did.  As the opening remained unfilled, so did I, so I set up an appointment to interview.  I had done receptionist work before.  No big deal.  But getting back into a traditional job was a very big deal at the time for me.

I got the job the very afternoon I  interviewed and worked for a few months while watching teachers come in and out of the faculty room directly behind the front desk. I began to wonder what it would take to become a teacher there.  I had graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor's degree in Humanities with an emphasis in English.  Why couldn't I put my degree to use?!  I had the feeling to talk to one of the grandmotherly teachers who would often stroll in, say hello, and chat for a minute from time to time.  She was incredibly helpful and so kind! She told me about state-run programs created for people just like me who could earn a teaching certificate while teaching--if I were to get hired.  So I explored the idea further and talked to the school's director who I had the opportunity to befriend while working at the front desk.  She was very interested and encouraging.  By the end of my first year as a receptionist, I was applying to teach!  There was an opening to begin a new class for seniors and the timing was perfect.  I was hired.

The school has a unique approach to learning.  They combine the English and History classes into one course they call Socratic: a question-based learning system without formal textbooks.  I was hired to teach literature, writing, and history to seniors.  Because it was a new program, I had incredible freedom to create, which was both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing was the freedom to create--to include art, poetry, films, primary source documents, and stories in addition to the literature that we would explore. The curse was that the field to explore was so wide I hardly knew how to evaluate what the most important pieces and ideas were.  I was going to have to explore and prepare within the boundaries of my time, knowledge, and skills.

To do this monumental task, I had to create a system of order for myself which would help me judge what was most important--what to keep, what to let go.  As I combed through possible content I couldn't indulge in disorder.  I needed to create lesson plans: organized and purpose-driven plans that included daily objectives, content focuses, and modes of assessment to see what students were taking away--if anything.  I had to google what a lesson plan should look like--that's how novice I was. And guess what?! Nowhere, on any of the lesson plans that were modeled by other teachers, was the word "goals."  Why not?!  What is it about "goals" that they are not included in teaching?

One of my mentors and dear friends, Shannon Cannon, likes to quote Jacques Barzun, a teacher and philosopher of education (1907-2012), who teaches:

No man says of another: "I educated him."  It would be offensive and would suggest that the victim was only a puppy when first taken in hand.  But it is a proud thing to say, "I taught him"-- and a wise one not to specify what.

The point is, I couldn't set "goals" for my student's learning because I could neither guarantee nor predict what they would learn!  I could present information, ask discussion questions, and even test their content knowledge, but I couldn't interpret the information for them or tell them what to think.  Learning is unique, fluid, personal.

A true teacher cannot set goals; they have to create objectives.  Why?  Because a goal is an endpoint; it's a destination.  But an objective is open and flexible.  It has a focus but it gives space for progress that's personal and expandable.  I love that so much more than "goals"!  I love the idea that the journey is preeminent.  Measurable goals have their place, it's true, but real, day-to-day living is more truly objective-based and process-driven, more fluid and flexible.

When I studied the Humanities at college, my "goal" was to graduate but my "objective" was to learn about human nature by studying other's creations in the arts, poetry, literature, cultures, stories, and languages; it was to learn how to think for myself and perhaps gain some wisdom; it was to prepare to be a better mother if the chance ever came.  My goal was reached in 1996 but my objective remains the same--even to this day.

I believe that setting goals-- achievements, ends-- should be few and far between, but to set
objectives-- patterns and habits established for meaningful, purpose-driven, Beautiful Living-- that is what I can live with.  That's what I prefer to focus on.

The truth is we need plans!  Those lesson plans I prepared as a teacher helped me be accountable for my progress.  They helped me visualize where the holes were in my planning, and they gave each lesson if prepared direction, purpose, and structure.  Not every plan was awesome.  Most plans were reworked year by year as my skill increased and as my knowledge grew.  But those lesson plans also had to be flexible from day-to-day and from year-to-year based on the needs and abilities of my students.

Life plans need the same degree of flexibility.  They need to address opportunities for growth both planned and unplanned.  They need to be pliable enough to adapt to both unexpected opportunities or serendipities and also adapt to bitter disappointments or loss.  They need to be gracious enough to allow for mistakes and learning curves.  They need to be based in reality while shaping us into our ideals.  They need to be based on our own values and beliefs and reflect our unique purposes.

Life plans ideally take into account the following:
1.   A Personal Mission Statement that clarifies your mission and purpose
2.  An understanding of and an accounting of your Personal Resources both intellectual,
      tangible, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
3.  An understanding of the Push (negative) & Pull (positive) Factors you'll need
      to anticipate and influence.
4.  An in-depth look at the 7 Focus Areas of your life today--a Personal Assessment.
5.  A Customized System for each Focus Area of your choosing.

It looks like this:

Are you ready to make your own plan?  

Here's the worksheet I have created and use to keep my objectives in front of me regularly:

Do you want to see some of my most recent objectives?
(Then you have to promise not to laugh that one of my goals is still to make my bed!)
Remember, when you are working on creating a plan for your life, try to discern the difference between a goal (a one-time accomplishment) and an objective (a state of being or living).  Maybe, then, you won't be discouraged or experience guilt palpitations everytime you're reminded to set "goals"!  Until next time...

Live Beautifully!

Heather Butler

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