We all know the power of SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-oriented) goals in the classroom, but what about a stretch goal? Defined by Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter Better Faster, as an ambitious aim that might seem unachievable at first, stretch goals are big in the business world. I believe these types of goals also have a place in education.
Stretching to Get a Big Name
A few years ago, my colleague, Erin, came to me with a wild idea. She wanted to bring Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, an international recording artist, to our school for an all-school concert. At the time, our sophomores were reading A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier, the story of Ishmael Beah, who grew up during the violent and brutal Sierra Leone Civil War of the 1990s. Erin felt that inviting the group would help students better understand the story.
I thought she was crazy. "Erin," I said, "those guys were on Oprah for crying out loud! They're never going to come to our school." Besides that, as a low-income, urban school, I didn't think we'd have the money to pay for such a concert. But Erin persevered. She found the band's contact information and sent off an email. She told the band's management our school's story, and she explained her purpose for wanting them to perform at our school. Next, she found funding through grants.
Long story short, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars did come to our school, and it was one of the most wonderful days we'd ever experienced. Students, teachers, and administrators all danced and sang along in a spectacular day of community building. If not for Erin stretching to reach this seemingly impossible goal, it never would have happened.
How I Brought Stretch Goals into My Classroom
Duhigg points out that consistently forcing people to commit to ambitious, seemingly out-of-reach objectives can spark outsized jumps in innovation and productivity, and the Academy of Management Review revealed that ambitious goals promote new ways of thinking. It explained that "by forcing a substantial elevation in collective aspirations, stretch goals can shift attention to possible new futures and perhaps spark increased energy in the organization."
So last year, I challenged my college-prep sophomores with a stretch goal: get the highest growth percentile on our school's state exam. It wasn't going to be easy. At least one student had never passed the exam before. Several students spoke English as their second language, and there were more than a few reluctant learners in the class.
I started work on the goal by stressing the fact that I considered the class a family. That meant I called home when someone was absent, and I helped students get services if I felt they needed a social worker. In terms of schoolwork, I kicked things into overdrive by adding six books to our curriculum. We ripped through grammar and punctuation worksheets and wrote essays at least once a week. I made my classroom extremely student-centered and offered incentives like pizza parties.
When the results came out, my students scored a whopping 77 percent. I couldn't believe it. Some students' growth percentiles came in at 91 and 93 percent, and more than half the class scored Advanced! I think we all got caught up in making the stretch goal happen, and pairing it with some SMART goals like increased reading and writing in the classroom really paid off!
How to Get Stretchy in Your Classroom and School
Stretch goals can and should be discussed in schools! Not all of these goals can be achieved in full, but I agree with Duhigg that these goals can spark new energy into organizations. Here's how you can bring a stretch goal to your school:
- Set time to brainstorm. That time can take place during professional learning groups or meetings; just make sure it's allotted into your schedule.
- Don't hold back when coming up with these goals. They're called a stretch for a reason. There are plenty of outrageous goals that have been achieved, so no idea should be scoffed at.
- Once you've come up with a few goals, try breaking them down into SMART goals. Figure out what's needed to make the goal happen, and work to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of success.
- Work in teams. It's hard to single-handedly make a stretch goal a reality without the help of others, so pull together some good people and begin to make those dreams happen.
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Stretch goals are a great way to increase productivity in your school and among your students. Coupled with a few well-planned SMART goals, your class will be unstoppable!