Much can be said about why goals are important. A goal can be directly associated with a growth mindset. A growth mindset is constructed around the idea of aspiration for accomplishment. That is why individually and collectively we have to understand the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Carol Dweck states that "Understanding the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset is a key element in developing a culture of success."1 This means that individuals or organizations who do not have clearly articulated goals in front of them may limit their expectancy of achievement. It also means that goal setting is a collaborative function that builds capacity for developing a growth mindset. What may have been the missing link to the school improvement process for the past 20 years is that goal statements lacked capacity building. That is, most organizations do not have a common set of shared goals.
Those of us who have been involved in long range planning and design have emphasized the importance of goals as a process of organizational and individual improvement. Yet very few schools experience continuous sustained growth over the course of multiple years. The speculative reasons many long range improvement plans do not witness sustained levels of growth over time is complex and can be associated with numerous variables. These variables may include change of leadership, frequent changes in district, state, and federal policies coupled with lack of focus to goals through relative feedback. But what might be the most evident cause for lack of sustained growth in school improvement may be as simple providing reflective feedback. These ideas of reflective feedback are supported by Hatch, 2009; Newmann, King, & Youngs, 2000 as they define capacity more specifically as the “collective competency” or “investment” necessary for a school to improve in a meaningful way.
Investment may mean that schools who are wanting to sustain growth over a period of time will need to invest in reflective feedback. Reflective feedback could in fact be the sustaining factor in developing human intellectual capital as the primary resource in meeting long and short term goals. Michael Fullan calls this process of reflective feedback on goal accomplishments intellectual accountability.
Michael Fullan states that “intelligent accountability ...involves a set of policies and practices that actually increases individual, and especially collective, capacity to the transparent point that shared responsibility carries most of the freight of effective accountability; that makes internal and external accountability almost seamless; and that leaves external accountability to do its remaining, more-manageable task of necessary intervention”2 Everyone talks about accountability and everyone assumes that accountability measures are carried out intelligently. But this is not always so. Fullan's ideas on achieving intelligent accountability requires putting more emphasis on reflective positive feedback rather than judgments investing in strengthening the abilities of all involved to carry goals that are directly related to school improvement.
To achieve intellectual accountability requires capacity building through leadership at the commencement of the school improvement process. Intellectual accountability can be developed once trust has been established between all stake holders. Once trust has been established between stakeholders is when growth mindsets will flourish by leadership refraining from making judgments on individuals. Growth mindsets for intellectual accountability ensures the transparency of data on the measures being carried out, on goal accomplishments, and intervening through corrective feedback where necessary.
Much can be said about the development of intellectual accountability through a growth mindset process. Too many times when data is being used to reflect school goal accomplishments, judgments are being made on an individuals ability in fulfilling their responsibilities. Rarely do you see a strategic plan that focuses on investing in people meeting goals through peer responsibility. Embracing transparent data through intellectual accountability is a matter of internal accountability that relies on reflection of both practice and results. Below is a six item list of Fullan’s thinking about intelligent accountability.
- It relies on incentives more than on punishment.
- It invests in capacity building so that people are able to meet the goals.
- It invests in collective (peer) responsibility -- what is called “internal accountability.”
- It intervenes initially in a nonjudgmental manner.
- It embraces transparent data about practice and results.
- It intervenes more decisively along the way when required.
In conclusion, what may have been the missing link to sustaining growth in public education is the lack of capacity building in individual goal achievement. That is, most school developed strategic plans do not have a common set of shared goals. It is well known among collaborative planners that people are more willing to commit to goals they have helped establish. Additionally, they are more likely to stay committed to those goals if they receive timely and accurate feedback for their participation. The goals themselves are not reinforcing. Instead, motivation to achieve goals stems from learning what needs to be accomplished and developing specific strategies that give direction to future accomplishments.
(1) Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Broadway New York, Ballantine Books,2011)
(2) M. Fullan, All Systems Go (Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press; and Ontario Principals Council,2010).