Goals – Pt. 1 – SMART goals are DUMB…

dreamgoalsAs we start a new year, you’re likely reflecting on what you plan to accomplish this year. Your goal setting process is probably based on the SMART system of goal setting:

S – specific

M – measurable

A – attainable

R – realistic

T – timely

The problem with following this framework is that it does little to spark innovative approaches to complex challenges which are often messy, difficult to measure and initially perceived as unrealistic. SMART goals DO, in fact, reinforce the status quo. Today over on the Getting Smart blog, Tom Vander Ark wrote a short but provocative article on a competency-based approach to learning titled, Is it a teaching problem or a design problem? SMART goals won’t get us to this transformation in the educational system. SMART goals are too conservative for an audacious goal such as competency-based learning. We need something different.

Enter DUMB goals. I’ve recently become a fan of the motivation speaker Brendon Burchard. In one of his videos, he suggests ditching SMART goals for DUMB goals.

D – dream-driven (Dream big and align your goals to a greater vision.)

U – uplifting (Your goals should positively inspire!)

M – method-friendly (Good goals inspire you to create methods and practices to achieve them. If you can check it off, it’s a task, not a goal.)

B – behavior-triggered (Create a behavior trigger that reminds you to chase the goal – if you’re already doing behavior A, then adding behavior B right after will habitually move you toward your goal.)

Don’t like DUMB goals? Then maybe HARD goals make more sense. From author Mark Murphy:

H – heartfelt (You’ve got to have an emotional attachment to your goal, it has to scratch an existential itch.)

A – animated (Goals need to be motivated by a vision, picture or movie that plays over and over in your mind.)

R – required (It needs to feel so urgently necessary that you have no other choice but to start acting on them right here, right now.)

D – difficult (Goals need to drag you out of your comfort zone, activating your senses and attention.)

Now these frameworks encourage us to dream big. And that’s what we need in education right now. Whichever framework you prefer, let’s make the 2014-15 school year be the year we dump the SMART goal and the status quo. Live on the edge. Dream big. Take risks. Great things can happen! We don’t need more status quo…

What’s your dream? What are your goals for the new school year? Are they SMART, DUMB or HARD?


Career Ready….for what careers?

contingentworkforceLast summer I wrote about “career ready” and the career paradigms of Generation X and Generation Y/Z. I recently read this prediction from the Intuit 2020 Report (actually published in not so recently in 2010, but still relevant):

Work shifts from Full-time to Free Agent Employment

Imagine a world where contingent work is as common as traditional employment.

The Great Recession will continue accelerating the long-term trend toward a contingent workforce. Contingent workers – freelancers, temps, part-time workers, contractors and other specialists – are hired on a nonpermanent basis and don’t have full-time employment status. Yet these pseudo-employees increasingly work as if they are full-time. What’s missing is a single employer.

By contracting directly with a business or through an agency, these contract workers increase business efficiency, agility and flexibility. They also cost less and turn employment expenses into variable costs. Contractors, or contingent employees, have a greater say in when and how much they work, giving them greater work-life balance. Today, roughly 25-30 percent of the U.S. workforce is contingent, and more than 80 percent of large corporations plan to substantially increase their use of a flexible workforce in coming years.


  • The number of contingent employees will increase worldwide. In the U.S. alone, contingent workers will exceed 40 percent of the workforce by 2020.
  • Traditional full-time, full-benefit jobs will be harder to find.
  • Small businesses will develop their own collaborative networks of contingent workers, minimizing fixed labor costs and expanding the available talent pool.
  • Self-employment, personal and micro business numbers will increase.
  • Government will misclassify workers, creating a major issue for companies of all sizes, especially in the first half of the decade. Work classification and work style will emerge as a target of intense political debate

In addition, there is this from the High School Careers Study (2014):

72% of high school students and 64% of college students want to start a business someday. 61% of high school students and 43% of college students would rather be an entrepreneur instead of an employee when they graduate college.

Are we preparing our students for a new world of careers? Does the current K-12 curriculum foster entrepreneurial thinking? As educational leaders, do these statistics surprise us? What would our own students say?

Uncovering this data reminds me of how important it is for educational leaders to have a vision – a vision for our schools as organizations focused on teaching and learning – that considers future trends, especially if we want to claim to prepare kids to be productive citizens and workers. Does the traditional curriculum serve the purpose of preparing our students to navigate a world of contingent employment (current 7th graders will be graduating in 2020)? In some ways it does, with shifts to deeper, more rigorous levels of thinking and problem solving. In other ways our curriculum and expectations fall short, such as in the areas of entrepreneurial thinking and the expert economy. Both the  Intuit 2020 Report and the High School Careers Study (2014) are valuable starting places for educators to begin reshaping this notion of careers.

Do you lead like a conductor?

FreddyConductingIf you know me, you know that a good part of my career has been devoted to music education. I was trained as a trumpet player, taught middle school general and choral music, directed (and traveled extensively with) a high school select choral group (I had some fun digging up recordings) and was musical director of the Freddy Awards (a televised awards program recognizing high school musical theatre) from it’s inception in 2003 until 2012. My favorite part of this work was rehearsing and conducting. I often wonder if what I learned as a music director helped to develop my passion for educational leadership. It seems like there are endless connections between the two. I’ve written about this before, and there is even a TED talk devoted to it – Lead Like the Great Conductors.

A few days ago, I was inspired by this quote on the Leonard Bernstein Facebook page:

The conductor is a kind of sculptor whose element is time instead of marble, and in sculpting it, he must have a superior sense of proportion and relationship. He must judge the largest rhythms of the whole phraseology of a work. He must conquer the form of a piece, not only in the sense of form as a mold, but form in its deepest meaning: where the music relaxes, where it begins to accumulate tension, where the greatest tension is reached, where it must ease up to gather strength for the next lap, where it unloads that strength. These are the intangibles of conducting, the mysteries that no conductor can learn or acquire. And after he has pondered these mysteries he is a great musician, but not necessarily a great conductor. To be a great conductor he still must have one more attribute in his personality, without which all the mechanics and knowledge, and perception are useless: and that is the power to communicate all this to his orchestra — through his arms, face, eyes, fingers, and whatever vibrations may flow from him. In this way he develops a kind of technique of gestures through which he speaks or talks to the audience. – Leonard Bernstein (Omnibus Presents: The Art of Conducting, December 4, 1955)

Go ahead….read it again. If you’re a school leader – principal, supervisor, director, superintendent – ponder the parallels between these words and who/what you are as a leader. How are you like a sculptor? What are your most developed senses? What is your “work”? What is the meaning you wish to communicate? What are the points of tension? Are they balanced by moments of relaxation? How do you communicate this ebb and flow to your “orchestra”? Do you ever heighten the tension? What are the mysteries of leadership? What is it that takes you beyond the mechanics and knowledge of leadership into the realm of art?


Who will define you as an educator?

pointingfingerIn this age of bureaucracy and accountability , I see way too many educators submit to the idea that some external system will determine who they are as educators and what their schools are, as well. In Pennsylvania we have recently moved from “making AYP” to School Performance Profile (SPP), an accountability measure that “grades” schools on a scale of 0-100 (with the possibility of up to 7 “bonus” points – yeh, how ridiculous is that?). For educators, we have started the Educator Effectiveness System which provides an overall score for individual teachers and, coming this year, principals. You can view the Classroom Teacher Rating Form and the Principal Rating Form to see just how limited this system is. Despite such nonsense, I see teachers and school leaders believing that these are the “new” systems that will define their effectiveness as teachers and school leaders.

Not only are the systems flawed, but the thinking of educators is flawed…..and dangerous. It’s silly to think that as an educator I’m a 3.1. Really? That’s not very nuanced feedback, is it? Yet too many of us are OK with that and continue on with our lives, unchanged. It’s dangerous thinking because we surrender our agency to define ourselves and our schools. In the age of technology saturation, it is now easier than ever for us to take control and play a major role. Two suggestions for educators and schools to start, getting beyond limited government systems…

  1. CONNECT – Every educator should be connected on social media and engaging in learning with other educators. When we do this, we build a positive digital footprint, one that not only represents our learning but demonstrates our ability to be reflective, thoughtful and collaborative about our practice. Connecting defines who we are. There are all sorts of tools that can be used to connect. Twitter and Twitter chats are a great starting point.
  2. SHARE – Share what you are doing and what you are thinking. Share when you learn something so others can learn along with you. Share about your school and your classroom! Not only for yourself, but for your students. Model creating a positive digital footprint and provide them with opportunities to develop their own as learners. You can use the same social media tools you use to connect or you might start a blog and get your own domain name.

I’m not saying we need to get rid of annual evaluations or systems of school accountability (although the current systems in PA are hardly effective or adequate). But let’s not let these external systems be the only components that define who we are as educators. WE should (and can) be the ones that define who we are and what are schools are. Not some external system interested only in boiling down all that we do to a single digit (or may 2 or 3). We do need to “play the game,” but we can make enough noise to drown out the din of the bureaucracy. Sadly, though, we haven’t reached the tipping point in education where we’ve taken control from the bureaucrats and taken ownership ourselves. That requires new learning and effort, and most educators, sadly, aren’t ready for that.

For those who are taking ownership, connecting and sharing, let’s take our question a step further and ask our students – Who or what defines you as a learner? The state and it’s standardized tests?  I see a pattern here….




Summer Project!

Final-Logo copyAbout two years ago I suggested to my colleague, Lynn Fuini-Hetten (@lfuinihetten), that we needed to do more sharing and that we should start a podcast. After learning how to record something that sounded decent and purchasing some equipment, I was ready to go. Well, not so much! (And I’ve been harassed for the past two years!) Life and work got in the way and it just wasn’t happening. Until I decided that this was going to be THE big summer project!

Today we launch TLTalkRadio, a podcast where Lynn and I will share out and engage listeners on a whole host of topics related to education – leadership, teaching and learning. We will definitely have guests as well! (So let us know if you are interested!)

Here is our elevator pitch:

Regardless of role, we all face many of the same leadership challenges every day. To be the most effective educational leaders, we need to design a balance between managing the operational side of our roles and the creativity and vision needed to challenge the status quo. To do that, reflecting on what we have done in the past, why we have done it, and whether or not it still meets the needs of our organization is essential. Join TLTalkRadio hosts Lynn Fuini-Hetten (@lfuinihetten) and Randy Ziegenfuss (@ziegeran) weekly as they share leadership stories, feature guest interviews and inspire you to lead for the change we need in schools for the digital age.

Our 1st episode is an overview of what we want the show to develop into – our vision. In the 2nd episode we share out about the Bucks Lehigh Edusummit a conference that took place this week – how it came about, how it comes together and how it benefits the educators that participated in the two-day event.

Lynn and I want to interact with listeners so we will share out one or two questions each week designed to engage. Comments can be posted on our blog at TLTalkRadio.org on on Twitter using the hashtag #TLTalkRadio.

We are also looking for listener input into show topics. If you visit the site, you will notice a red button on the right to leave us a voice mail with your ideas.

And of course, we’re on Facebook, Twitter and you can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes U.

Lynn and I are very excited about this new venture! We are committed to sharing out our work and learning from others interested in the conversations. Come learn with us!