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Prepare Your Professional Development Goals for the Year

Jordan Catapano

Our ultimate goal is student growth and success. So how do we help facilitate that? The answer is not to repeat what we’ve already done year after year. To do so means that we’re either perfect (which is unlikely) or lazy (which is unfortunate). The trick to improvement is to assess yourself and to set professional development goals for your own growth. If you’re weak or lacking in some areas of your instruction, there’s no use pretending like you’re not. Face the truth about where you need to improve head on, and set your professional development goals for the upcoming school year. Between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next is the ideal time for reflecting and setting professional development goals. How do you need to improve?

Professional Development Questions to Ask Yourself

Before you set down your specific goals for yourself, ask yourself a few of the following questions.

Are there school or district goals?

It’s important to consider what direction your school and/or district want to go in. If your school has stated broader goals that your personal objectives could fit into, then those are important to pay attention to. If you’re running down a path that’s separate from your school, that could prove counteractive.

What are your weaknesses?

Sometimes we just know what areas we’re lacking in. Other times it’s a little more difficult to pinpoint where specifically you may need to grow. Consider these ideas for helping you think through your weak spots:

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  • Look at your curriculum or calendar. What items do you look forward to? Which ones do you dread, and why?
  • Think through your body and how you use it in the classroom. Your voice, your arms, your feet, your presence itself. What is being used, and how?
  • Look around your classroom. What areas contribute to learning? What areas seem cluttered, confusing, or underutilized?
  • Scan your roster from last year. Which students made you feel excited or successful? Which didn’t? Why do they make you feel that way?
  • Graze through your files. Whether you keep physical or digital files, look through the documents you created, the apps you used, and the websites you frequented. What feelings and ideas do you get from each one? What worked for you and your students?
  • Consider your colleagues. Which teachers do you admire and why? What are others doing that’s working for them?

What will help students the most?

Enough about you. Focus on your students. What content, techniques, or approaches are going to be the most helpful to them? Consider your use of technology, classroom time, interventions, communication tools, assessments, engagement strategies, relevance and application, and so on.

It can prove helpful if you ask your students to complete a short survey for you at the end of the year, identifying what worked and what could improve. If we have certain standards we hope to help students achieve, getting their feedback along the way is invaluable.

What would your colleagues say?

Imagine what trusted, sincere colleagues might say about your teaching. Or you can actually ask them directly and find out for yourself. While you have many strengths to acknowledge, getting an outside opinion from a trusted professional can go a long way in helping you identify where your next area of growth may be.

Crafting Your Goals

Once you determine the area or areas you’d like to zero in on for improvement, it’s time to make your goals. Should you list a dozen goals you plan on achieving? Absolutely not! The first important thing to do for yourself is to have a very limited set of goals. If you have too many, then you’re going to get very frustrated very quickly. But if you have a small set of goals, then you’re better able to actually focus your attention and accomplish them.

Many authorities recommend having no more than five to seven goals. I recommend reducing this number to just one or two. As we know, the goals we set permeate so many areas of our teaching that to focus on more than a few would quickly become overwhelming. Set one or two reasonable goals, and blow them out of the water through the year.

Equally important is to make sure your goals are concrete. If they’re too broad, then you’re not giving yourself enough direction to achieve them. The more specific, the better.

You cannot say, “I want to communicate with parents more.” What do you mean by “Communicate”? What do you mean by “More”? Instead, come up with something more targeted, such as, “I want to make at least two parent phone calls a week throughout the year.” This goal is concrete, reasonable, measurable, and time-bound.

Once you determine your areas of improvement, try to spend time developing the statements you need to make your goal specific enough to act on. Then WRITE IT DOWN!

Some Practical Steps

Now that you’ve reflected and written down your goals, it’s time to do something about it. Goals aren’t fulfilled by wishing. You need to take steps to ensure that what you wrote down becomes an effective reality throughout your year.

Start early. Don’t wait to activate your goal. No matter if you’re interested in using technology, facilitating discussions, communicating with families better, or whichever other area you’ve identified, it’s best to start right away. Spend time at the beginning of your year – or even over the summer – thinking through how you’re going to implement steps towards your goal.

Display what you wrote. You wrote down your goal? Great. Now put it somewhere you’ll actually see it on a regular basis. Writing it down is the first step, but consistently reminding yourself of it is the next.


Watch others. Don’t feel like you need to go it alone. Whatever you’re working on, chances are your building is already home to experts you could learn from. Ask exemplary peers if you can sit in on a few of their lessons, and see what they do that’s so effective! Follow up your observations with questions and compliments.

Read. There are innumerable educators writing down their tips and tricks of the trade. Visit Amazon or your local book store, pore over the education books, and find a few volumes that will give you the ideas and inspiration you need to carry out your goal effectively.

Connect to others. Of course books aren’t your only option for resources. Connect directly to fellow educators across the country using social media like Twitter or Pinterest. You can follow their ideas and communicate with them directly!

Keep track of your progress. Don’t forget to make notes regarding your progress. Since your goals should be concrete and measurable, you want to record how you’re measuring up. This is critical feedback for you to see how effectively you are realizing your goals.

Ask students (maybe even colleagues) for feedback. Who is impacted by your goal? Get feedback from those people – most likely your students – who are the reason why you’re setting your goal in the first place. Their opinions will offer crucial information regarding how well you’re achieving your goal and how effective your goal actually is.

It’s All About …

Student success. A lot of goal setting can feel like you’re focusing on yourself. But this is not merely about personal fulfillment. This is about your students’ learning.

While your goals may be noble and well-intentioned, they don’t mean a whole lot if at the end of the day your students’ learning stays the same. So as you’re working toward improving yourself, make sure you remain focused on the real reason for improvement: To build the success of your students in the long run.

What other advice would you give for setting goals? Share your thoughts with our community in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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