The Action Research “Diet” with SMART Goals

You can’t turn back the clock. But you can wind it up again. ~ Bonnie Prudden

It is that time of year again. Millions of people are contemplating New Year’s Resolutions. Prior to making new resolutions, it is helpful to reflect on past resolutions. What elements were successful? What caused challenges along the way? What will you do with the next five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes that stand before you in 2012?

I know I’m not alone in the fact that not all my resolutions have materialize as first planned. I’ve learned that when goals are too lofty or when I make too many goals, I find myself not reaching what I set out to achieve. This year I’m putting a new spin on an old concept.

Spin #1

As an instructional coach and school improvement  consultant I have been fortunate to learn from many outstanding individuals in the field of education. During the first several years in this position I had the privilege of gleaning new learning from Dr. Emily Calhoun. She taught us the power of using data to make decisions. In her book, Using Data to Assess Your Reading Program, she shows how a school or district team can use action research to evaluate students’ progress in reading, analyze instruction, and make changes to improve students’ performance. She introduces readers to a matrix for collectively assessing the variety of factors that affect a school’s reading program. This same matrix can be used for any area a school wishes to help pinpoint strengths and weaknesses and set goals for improvement.

To introduce this matrix I’ve used the analogy of dieting or developing a healthier life style. As I embark into the year 2012, I plan to actually use the analogy to assist with my own healthy life style changes.

The matrix is divided up into 6 cells. Three cells focus on the learner and three cells focus on the learning environment. The process also includes looking at both school-level information and external information. For more information on using the school-wide action research model you can access the full text, Using Data to Assess Your Reading Program and a study guide for the book through the ASCD website. The book itself provides many more tools and examples to utilize in your school-wide action research process. It is a valuable resource!

The matrix format can be used when making any changes. In the case of choosing to develop a healthier lifestyle I have developed a sample of the matrix. Cells 1, 2 and 3 take a look at the individual both from the internal/self status and external information about healthy individuals. It is suggested to use reputable external sources as you do your own research. Cells 4, 5, and 6 takes a look at the individual’s environment. External environment factors play a large role in our life styles. For example, if you eat out a lot, study ways to make healthier choices. If getting enough exercise is a challenge find activities you like. Buddy systems work well. Friends and family nearby and/or social media contacts can be use for motivation and accountability. One in particular is the Twitter Exercise Motivation Team. The hashtag #temt is used by educators to announce their exercise for the day and for ongoing support. Knowing that others are working toward similar goals is motivating. A group blog, by the same name – Twitter Exercise Motivation Team, provides a place for individuals to reflect on their journey, provide tips and motivate fellow Twitter friends.

Besides increasing my exercise, portion control is another area I need to specifically watch. I have found various websites and apps to be helpful. My favorite website is MyFitnessPal. (iPhone and iPad apps are also available)

Tracking my daily food intake and exercise has been an eye-opening experience. I have taken a few weeks off of tracking my food and exercise over the holidays and will begin again this week. The app helps me stay focused on both my short and long-term goals. Meanwhile, for those who want to start exercising as well such as through sports, they can start by purchasing related equipment like that bow case.

A sample matrix follows:

Spin #2

Speaking of goals, Spin #2 for this year’s New Year’s Resolution involves using the SMART goal process. As an instructional coach I have collaborated with teachers on the development and monitoring of SMART goals set for students and/or their own teaching practices. SMART goals can be used both in your professional and personal lives. As I set my goals for 2012 I plan to ask myself the following questions.

S = SPECIFIC: What exactly will I accomplish?

M = Measurable: How will I know I have reached this goal?

A = Achievable: Is achieving this goal realistic with effort and commitment? Do I have the resources I need to achieve this goal? If not, how will I get them?

R = Relevant: Why is this goal significant in my life?

T = Timely: When will this goal be achieved?

As I look to 2012, my goals are extensions of what I have been working on over the last few months. I have encountered successes and challenges. I am using my successes to overcome my weaknesses. It is my hope that by working through the action research matrix and setting SMART goals I am not only well prepared for the coming year, but also continually utilizing techniques I need to stay involved along my career path.

What goal setting tools have you found successful? Can they be used in both your personal and professional lives?

It is not enough to take steps which may some day lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe