Research School Network: Next Goal Wins: Goal-setting in Professional Development Mark Miller, Head of Bradford Research School, explores Mechanism 3 of the EEF’s PD Guidance: Setting and agreeing on goals


Next Goal Wins: Goal-setting in Professional Development

Mark Miller, Head of Bradford Research School, explores Mechanism 3 of the EEF’s PD Guidance: Setting and agreeing on goals

by Bradford Research School
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It’s three weeks into January, which means we’re all either sticking to our resolutions or we abandoned them a couple of weeks ago. It feels like an appropriate time for us to write about mechanism 3 in the EEF’s Effective Professional Development guidance report:

Mechanism 3: Setting and agreeing on goals

Mechanisms 3, 4 and 5 in the guidance come under the banner Motivate Teachers’. Even if we build knowledge in professional development by managing cognitive load (Mechanism 1) and revisiting prior learning (Mechanism 2), we have to ensure that teachers are motivated to act on that knowledge. If not, we have no behaviour change. Setting goals as part of professional development can help.

When conscious, specific, and sufficiently difficult goals are set, they make it more likely that performance will improve.

We see evidence to support this mechanism from a wide range of studies, in education and beyond. Conscious and specific goals e.g. I will keep my running pace under 5 minutes per km,’ can be contrasted with vaguer intentions e.g. I will run faster,’ and are more likely to lead to improvement, provided they are of sufficient difficulty. The sufficient difficulty in the above example would depend on the runner. (You can add a minute to that pace for me!).

What do these goals look like for Professional Development?

These are the examples from the guidance:

At the end of a professional development session on how to use specific strategies to improve early literacy, the facilitator could ask all early years practitioners to set a goal to run a parental workshop on literacy that term.

After providing feedback on a Year 8 science lesson they have just observed, a coach could ask a teacher to set a goal; their goal is to include more explicit modelling of their own thinking in the next lesson in order to advance learners’ metacognitive knowledge

I think it’s interesting too to look at non-examples from the accompanying evidence review to see what it doesn’t look like:

‘Pacific CHILD focuses on interactive tasks and encourages teachers to adopt group-based activities in the classroom.’ (Abe et al., 2012, p.6)

‘The DDI intervention did not require that teachers implement specific instructional approaches, but they were generally expected to make greater use of evidence-based instructional strategies, such as reviewing and adjusting students’ small-group assignments, using differentiated instruction, re-teaching difficult material, and increasing time spent on Instruction.’ (Gleason et al., 2019, p.4)

In the first example, teachers are only encouraged and in the second there is merely a general expectation of the use of strategies.

Those responsible for PD should take time to support goal-setting. If this doesn’t happen, there is likely to be a knowing-doing gap. Things are less likely to change as a result of the PD. Indeed, some professional development approaches such as teacher learning communities and instructional coaching have goal-setting built in to them.

Epton et al (2017) in their meta-analysis concluded that goal setting is optimally effective when: a) it is set face-to-face, b) it is set publicly, c) it is a group goal, and d) it is coupled with monitoring of the behavior or outcome by another person without feedback.’

More than goal-setting

Goal setting is necessary for behaviour change but not sufficient. We’ll look at how the other mechanisms help to embed practice in later blogs, but those responsible for PD should ensure not only that they are prompting the setting of goals, but creating the conditions in which these goals are enacted. Gollwitzer and Sheeran (2006) highlight ways that forming a goal is not enough due to challenges in implementation. We need to shield our goals.

  1. Failing to Get Started – often, we simply forget to do something or fail/​choose not to seize the opportunity to act when it presents itself.
  2. Getting derailed – we fail to shield our goal from unwanted influences. Most goals will be complex, multi-step goals and our schools are not always set up to support them.
  3. Not calling a halt – if we shield our goal too much, we can find it difficult to disengage from goal pursuit. Stopping a goal is a goal in itself and requires the same commitment as goal setting!
  4. Overextending oneself – setting too many goals can mean none are fully realised, as capacity for self-regulation is depleted.

Implementation intentions can be set as part of goal-setting to pre-empt these. If we know that we may likely forget something, we can set up a prompt or cue e.g. To achieve the goal intention of increasing wait time during questioning, we might say: And if I am tempted to move too quickly I will walk across the room. 

My next goal is to write a blog on Mechanism 4 from the guidance. Catch up next Sunday to see if I was successful! 

Gollwitzer, P. M. & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta‐​analysis of effects and processes. Advances in experimental social psychology, 38, 69 – 119.

Epton, T., Currie, S. and Armitage, C. J., (2017). Unique effects of setting goals on behavior change: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 85(12), 1182 – 1198.

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