The Power of Teacher Goal Setting

Goals are an incredibly important part of the strategic planning process. Yet when it comes to education, school leaders, teams, and individual teachers are often frustrated at the lack of clarity around purpose and goals. But quality goals can help shape professional learning, improve learning outcomes for students, and increase teacher wellbeing: schools must find time to make goal setting part of their process from the executive team through to the classroom teachers.

From the top down

Quality goal setting starts with good strategy and clear vision. For members of any organisation to feel like they are contributing to the greater good, the “greater good” needs to first be clearly defined. I could spend hours going through different methods of coming up with a strategy, but the fact is that many schools already have a strategy, mission, and vision.

Speaking to leaders and principals across Australia, the problem is that however well their strategy is articulated to staff, it never seems to stick. Hours of time are poured into staff consultation, meetings, sub-committees, and feedback cycles to create school strategic plans. Once they’re published, schools present the plans to the staff and assume that buy-in will follow because of the involvement in the process. However, the fact is that under the daily pressures of teaching, it is incredibly hard for teachers to keep the bigger picture strategy top-of-mind.

This is where goal setting comes in. Often, teacher goals are taken separately to strategy. Annual Review Meetings (ARMs) are frequently aligned with external standards, such as AITSL Standards, rather than internal school vision. Instead, try approaching teacher goal setting with the school strategy as the anchor point. School leaders should develop their own goals, and these should cascade down through the organisation.

This does not mean that leaders need to set goals on behalf of the teaching staff, however. Teachers should be encouraged to set their own goals, using the bigger picture school strategy as a reference point.

From the bottom up

At an individual teacher level, goal setting is incredibly important. Not only does it result in greater feelings of efficacy and autonomy, but clear goal setting can add clarity around purpose, leadership pathways, and, ultimately, reduce the risk of burnout and attrition.

Teachers often set goals around content mastery, pedagogy, or leadership aspiration. All of these goals can be aligned to school strategy. This not only gives a greater sense of purpose – who wouldn’t want to work for an organisation where everyone is pulling in the right direction? – but also increases the likelihood of career advancement within that school.

As classroom teachers, many of us will have been through an ARM process which is disconnected from the day-to-day reality of the classroom. External standards are useful benchmarks, but schools are highly context dependent. This is where clarity over the strategic intent of the school becomes incredibly important.

If you’re a school leader struggling to get staff to work within the bigger picture strategic intent, or an individual teacher lacking a sense of clarity or purpose, then clear goals aligned to vision and strategy might be the answer.

Have a question about education strategy you’d like to discuss? Get in touch:


Butler, R. (2007). Teachers’ achievement goal orientations and associations with teachers’ help seeking: Examination of a novel approach to teacher motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(2), 241-252.

Camp, H. (2017). Goal setting as teacher development practice. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education29(1), 61-72.

Tschannen-Moran, M. & McMaster, P. (2009). Sources of Self‐Efficacy: Four Professional Development Formats and Their Relationship to Self‐Efficacy and Implementation of a New Teaching Strategy. The Elementary School Journal110(2), 228-245.

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