Effective goal setting for educators

So far in this series, we have discussed the importance of developing teachers as Classroom Leaders, giving and receiving feedback effectively, creating strong professional intercultural relationships, and using the GROW method to manage the time and direction of a lesson. As lifelong learners ourselves, it is imperative to set a direction and goals around our own education as well as for our students. With high rates of teacher burnout leading to increasing rates of turnover, professional development amongst TEFL community can become stagnant. This article is intended to encourage effective goal setting and review professional success within the context of educator’s development.


The TEFL certificate, a bachelor’s degree, post graduate certificate, and home country teaching license are ultimately different destinations along the same journey. In coaching, choosing a particular destination along that journey and narrowing down the precise measures of success is what we call goal setting. While different countries and jobs have different requirements, the ultimate goal also reflects a certain commitment to the field of education or a teacher’s path in their professional life. We all have a desire to do well in our profession; the only real questions to be explored are how well, and also, how will we know when we have achieved this?


There is a degree of professionalism that exists around this conversation, and the idea of permanence is not always one that is considered when moving abroad. Many within the expat community have arrived seeking radical change in their lifestyles; it doesn’t get much more radical than living abroad. Over time I have observed that most people know that China is or isn’t the right place for them after 90 days. They either stick around in the same company or hop between a couple over the first few years. After that, expats in the TEFL community begin to shift in identity and question- is this really what I want to do with my life and in this location? It can be very difficult to set goals based on what is truly desired, as the identity of an individual is thrust into the whirlwind that is this lifestyle. However, that is precisely why the importance of goal setting is important.


Within a coaching relationship exists a variety of different goals that are discussed. We might begin with the client’s overall goal in a discovery session – why do they want to engage in a coaching agreement? If the client were a teacher for example, their goal might be to have more confidence in the classroom, to ask for a promotion at the end of the year or to formulate a career development strategy for the next 3-5 years. By partnering with a client, we can identify if they have a dream goal, an end goal, a performance goal or a process goal. And from here we can co-create a strategy that breaks down any goal into a smaller goal or series of goals and develop a plan that empowers them to take action.


SMART is a useful framework to consider when thinking about goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-framed). I see a lot of people setting goals that are specific, achievable and time-framed, however little thought is given to measurable and relevant. To make sure that we are actually successful in achieving our goal, we need to be able to measure it. This can be assessed very easily by asking of any goal – how will I know when I am successful? For a goal to be relevant, it must also be in alignment with what we actually desire. To set a goal of finishing typing up lesson plans by next Thursday is great, but it also needs to connect with your why. This reminds you that you need to get the plans done by Thursday because they are due on Friday.


Another key factor to success in goal setting is that it must be in our control. As Sir John Whitmore wrote in Coaching for Performance, “I have to is for you, I want to is for me”. When we create goals that rely on others, we begin to lose some of the control over the goal. The more control we lose over the goal, the less attached we are, and the least likely we are to achieve the results. Alternatively, by allowing someone else to drive the results while remaining highly attached, we can become highly stressed or anxious by the result, especially when they take the credit. One relatable comparison might be any teacher that has set the goal of becoming better at classroom management. A teacher that has tried to control the disruptive behaviour of their students, may have had some success. But the teacher who has controlled their response to the disruptive behaviour of their students is likely to have had a greater success.


Another critical component to setting achievable, efficient goals is that it remains positive. Any smoker who has tried to quit smoking rather than engage in smoke free lifestyle can attest to this. It doesn’t matter how much we remind them that smoking is bad for their health, it affects their appearance and their students tell them they smell like Grandpa. The negative reinforcement from quitting is part of what will always drive them back for another. I know this because I smoked for over 10 years. What helped me to finally make the decision to permanently put down the cigarettes was a psychological change. I had to take ownership of my goal, and I had to reframe it in a positive way. I wanted freedom from the addiction of smoking, I wanted to remove the weight of “smoker” as a label on my identity. That was almost a year ago and since then I have gone on to coach others through the very same process.


Effective goal setting for teachers is what defines success within the TEFL industry in China and beyond. That could be in the way classrooms are managed physically or virtually today, it could mean creating a professional development strategy over the course of the next school year, or it could be developing an exit strategy to transition out of teaching in the next 5 years. Whatever goals you are setting professionally, I encourage you to stay accountable to them by assessing them against these criteria.


If you would like help to set, achieve or review your goals, send me a message today!

Pam