How to make a professional goal for teaching

ByGretchen Vierstra, MA

As an educator, you know you can improve your practice by reflecting on your teaching and setting a professional goal. But it’s not always easy to do.

Start by reflecting on the last month or quarter. Ask yourself: What has been working well for you and your students who learn and think differently? What challenges have you faced? 

Think about how you’d like to grow as an educator. What do you want to learn more about? What would you like to change? What student outcomes do you want to improve?

With those reflections in mind, follow these four steps for setting a professional teaching goal.

1. Pick a focus area.

There’s only so much you can work on at once. Consider your situation and be realistic about what you can take on. Then pick one area you’d like to focus on first. Here are some ideas to get you started: 

Social-emotional learning (SEL)

Many students and teachers are experiencing high levels of stress. When you incorporate SEL into your teaching, both you and your students can find ways to cope with your feelings and navigate challenges.

To learn more about SEL in the classroom, check out these articles: 

Collaborating with colleagues

Colleagues are important partners for sharing ideas, discussing accommodations for students, and building community.

Think about how you can start or strengthen your collaboration with colleagues. Take a look at these resources: 

2. Set a professional teaching goal.

Once you’ve picked your focus area, set a manageable teaching goal. Try using a SMART goal. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound.

If you’re focusing on SEL, for example, a SMART teaching goal may be to include at least one community-building activity each week for the rest of the quarter.

To help you keep on track, tell your colleagues about your goals. They may have tips, words of encouragement, or questions to help you think further about your goal. You might also inspire them to set their own teaching goals. 

3. Get feedback from your students. 

Model a growth mindset by sharing your goal with your students. Depending on your goal, consider including your students in the process. Gather their feedback about your focus area through class conversations, one-on-one chats, videos, or surveys.

For example, you can meet with small groups of students to talk about ideas for building class community. Let them know you value their input. 

4. Implement and reflect.

Give yourself at least a month to implement your goal. Set aside time afterward to reflect on your progress.

Use a notebook to jot down observations or add your ideas to a running online document. Try recording audio notes or short video reflections if those options work better for you. Ask yourself how your work has impacted your students. What challenges have you worked through? What successes have you found? Is it time to move on to a new teaching goal?

At first, it might feel like you don’t have the extra time for this reflection. But once you start doing it — and see the benefits — goal-setting can become a natural part of your teaching practice.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Gretchen Vierstra, MA is the managing editor at Understood and co-host of the 

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Brittney Newcomer, MS, NCSP is the associate director of thought leadership at Understood. She has served in public schools for more than a decade as a teacher, evaluator, and curriculum manager.