Teacher Goal Setting – Learning oriented vs Performance oriented goals.

I have been pondering over the idea of professional goal setting this last week. I’m sure many professionals are familiar with the experience of goal setting and being evaluated upon the extent to which they achieve those goals. In teaching we seem to be obsessed with and driven by goals and in many ways rightly so, if we do not have goals and desires that motivate our professional learning how do we move forward? However, to what extent do we really pause to reflect on the efficacy of the process?

Through my own experience I have seen so many teachers over the years merely go through the motions of goal setting because that is what they are told to do – they rush to complete their goals before the meeting with the principal and then near the end of the year they cobble together threads of evidence before they meet with the principal to discuss them. To me this is not effective learning and does not reflect the value of the learning process, it merely equates it to a “to do” list of things to tasks be ticked off.

I find it interesting to compare this process to the kind of work Carol Dweck has done on fixed vs growth mindsets learning. Goals can be seen as learning oriented (toward mastery) or performance oriented (driven by extrinsic factors) – are we motivated to learn or motivated to perform? To me the former is an inherent part of intrinsic motivation and the other largely extrinsically motivated. In terms of student learning this is problematic. I believe teachers need to be given encouragement and time to discover their intrinsic motivations toward learning. Furthermore, I believe this process can be strengthened through working collaboratively toward our goals. After all we know how powerful constructivist learning is for our students so why not for us? One of the ways this can be achieved is by creating systems within our schools that promote simple collaborative action research projects – teachers as inquirers!

About Gareth Jacobson

Head of Primary / PYP Co-ordinator, International School Moshi, Tanzania
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5 Responses to Teacher Goal Setting – Learning oriented vs Performance oriented goals.

  1. Gareth your on fire! Thanks for this honest post. Personally i have a hard job with goal setting. To me each day is a continuous learning journey and I have many aha moments and continuously making connections to my prior learning and applying to my own teaching, which I try to document through my blogs. I find the goal setting so individualized and put in little boxes that rarely we see any real change as a school, we bring the evidence of these goals when it is convenient and can tick of the ‘to do list’ . However, looking at the school more holistically or thinking more as a department if we are all to strive towards the same goal to be better educators this would certainly put us on the same page and together we can help achieve bigger goals that are meaningful and bring about true change and also we hold each other accountable.


  2. Hi Marianne, I guess I question the process because I am a learning oriented person. Funnily enough last year I kind of slipped through the net and did not get called on my goals unitl the end of the year. I therefore reflected on and listed my achievements and things I had been working on throughout the year, and then wrote my goals – it looked great! And the end result was no different! This kid of process has a lot of connections with action research because it is process oriented and learning changes as a result of what you find out along the journey.
    Hope you are enjoying a fulfilling school year.



  3. Great post Gareth. Goal setting is something that I kind of enjoy doing, my goals should keep me focused throughout the year. But sometimes I feel that if our goals aren’t measurable they are discounted (as being too hard to measure?!) This makes it more difficult to set goals that are learning orientated and easier to set performance orientated goals which quickly become boxes that need to be ticked.


    • Gareth Jacobson says:

      Hi Ange, hope you are well. A good point about goals being measurable and I think from a management perspective learning oriented goals can be generally perceived as too random, administratively time consuming and difficult to measure. However, I would disagree, you just need the right tool for the job. So much educational research methodology allows for diverse documentation and evidence… it just requires thoughtful mind shifts from educational leadership. But I am sure many would disagree with me 🙂
      Personally, I would like to see more use of small scale shared collaborative goals because this can impact personal responsibility and authenticity. This is something we are working on through action research projects in my new school.


  4. onnster says:

    First of all, I am commenting many months later because the work got to me. Believe it or not, I had not given myself time for reflection. It is long over due and reading blogs is part of my reflection process. I am actually very intrigued by your discussion of learning vs performance goals. Where I am, only the performance goals matter. It is too vague to say ” I want my student to be able to look at an advertisement and be able to crtically evaluate what it claims”. Instead, it would read like this ” 75% of my class will get an A for Science by the end of the year”.



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