#35: Setting Professional Goals as an Online Educator
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What areas do you want to improve as an online educator? In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies about how to set achievable goals for your professional growth and development. Learn about four areas to consider focusing your teaching goals, as well as how to stay motivated and remain accountable so you can achieve your goals.
Read the Transcript:
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the podcast. Today we’re going to talk about setting professional goals as an online educator. Today, it’s just a few weeks before the new year begins at the time of this recording. However, you could be listening to this at any time of year, and this would still apply to you.
There are so many times when we might set goals. I’m going to talk about different times of year when you might choose to set goals as an educator. We also talk about the why. Why does it matter? Why is it so important to have goals and to set goals?
I’ll ask you a few questions to get you thinking about the kind of areas you’d like to work on. Give you some examples of the kinds of goals you might consider in education and in your professional life. And lastly, we’ll look at your motivation, develop some kind of action plan and accountability steps to help you succeed with the goals that you choose to set.
Be Strategic in How You Set Goals
Starting off, I want to talk about what times of year we might choose to set goals. Sometimes we set them around the academic year. If you’re teaching at the kind of institution that has semesters or a school year, it might make the most sense to set your goals around that kind of a system. Maybe there’s a vacation period, a few breaks, some semesters. Naturally, you might choose your goals around those times.
At the institution where I’m teaching online, we really don’t have an academic year that is official or formal. Classes begin every month of the year, they are eight weeks long and so I set my goals on the calendar year. And I might set shorter term goals by eight week segments of classes that I’m teaching. Whatever it is for you, you want to think about the short term, the longer midterm type of goals, and the bigger, longer career goals.
It used to be that we might get evaluated by a manager. If you’re teaching in secondary or primary school, it might be a principal. If you’re in a university setting, it might be another kind of administrator. Someone comes along and evaluates us on a periodic basis, whether it’s once a year, once every other year. Whatever it is, we receive a periodic evaluation. And in this process, the person evaluating us just might tell us what they think we should work on. Naturally, we tend to take those on as our goals. We want to improve to avoid having a negative situation.
The kind of goals I’m suggesting here are all about your own growth and development as a professional to take matters into your own hands rather than having a leader of some kind dictate what those goals should be. By doing this, you will own the goals and you’ll own your own success. Furthermore, you’ll own your entire career direction much more fully, as you begin to embrace setting your goals and achieving them.
Why Should You Set Goals?
Just for a moment, I’m going to get into the why of goal setting. The first one comes from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can think about the four levels of deficiency needs starting with our physical needs: the food, water, sleep, warmth, nutrition, air, temperature regulation, all those things that we need in our lives to be physically taken care of. Then we have our safety needs: security, control and order in our lives. And after that, we have the social needs of love and belonging, and esteem or societal needs.
In these areas, it’s widely known that when we are meeting these needs, we’re really trying to make sure that we are having enough in these areas. And the sense of meeting these needs comes from a place of lacking or deprivation, so that’s why they’re called deficiency needs.
We want to avoid the unpleasant circumstance of missing out on these things. Certainly, no one wants to be living without food or shelter. We don’t want to be living in unsafe conditions. Those sorts of things.
Now, when we set goals, a lot of times the goals are in these four areas. We might want a better house, a more secure job. We might want to be in a better long-term relationship, or maybe we want better relationships with our colleagues. Maybe we want to achieve something, present somewhere, do something professionally that builds our esteem, gets some accomplishment and we get appreciation from that.
What I want to propose is that goal setting often moves us into the next level, which is self-actualization. And when we’re working on self-actualization, we’re getting away from what we lack and we’re growing so we can become a better version of who we are. It’s sort of a balance of what we want to do, our free will and our dreams, and what’s going to fit in with our possibilities. We get to accept who we are, and also maximize what we’re actually capable of.
As we’re thinking about professional goals, this drive that Maslow talked about, where people just are driven to want to become the better version of themselves or maximize their potential, that can really help us out in thinking about what goals we’d like to achieve. What we’d like to strive for. Where we might want to stretch, and where we want to grow that professional career as an online educator.
Another reason to be working on goals is that as we’re continuing to learn and strive and grow as educators, it keeps us moving. It gives us something to look forward to and be excited about, gives us something to do, and it also avoids stagnation.
It’s going to help us to be confident in the things we’re good at and we’re experienced at, but also stay connected to the role of the learner, because we’re always going to be learning something new and working on something.
As professional educators and especially online, where we tend to be a little bit more disconnected, there is a lot of great value in setting goals and working to achieve them. What kind of goals should we work on?
Identify Areas to Focus Your Goals
Now, if I were to draw a pie graph of some kind, I could divide this into four areas, four quadrants, if you will. And I would talk about these in terms of:
- relational goals, as a professional
- technological goals in the online environment and with the computer and the internet
- teaching goals, which are more about methods and strategies
- And then lastly, the contributing or growing goals about the bigger professional endeavors, the creation and the learning that we do as educators.
Questions to Consider Before Setting Goals
Before I dive into some details about these four types of goals, I’m going to ask you a few questions just to get you thinking. And here they are:
- What are the five things you spend most of your time doing during your workday as an online educator?
- What kind of tasks take the most energy?
- Where is the stress coming from when you feel stressed in your online education work?
- What kind of people are you interacting with most in your online education career?
- If there are any conflicts in your work, what kind of conflicts are they? What do you face?
- On the flipside, what is the most fulfilling aspect of your online education work?
- What is the most challenging or stressful part of your work?
- What excites you most about what you do professionally?
- What strengths and skills do you have that are immediately usable and could benefit others?
- And what resources are missing that you feel are necessary for you to be successful in your online educator role?
Now, as you think about those questions alone, some things might come into your mind about areas where you might want to be thinking about trying something new, connecting with other people and learning something, having an influence, trying a new habit. There are so many ways we can set very small and very large goals for short-term, mid-term, and long-term.
I’m going to go back to these four areas I started with a moment ago on the “what” of our goals. And I’ll give you some examples that you might consider for your own professional goals.
Relational Goal Setting
Now, in the relational area, we have the connection with our students. And I would say that most of our day is probably spent connecting with our students, whether we’re typing to them or talking to them in live synchronous meetings, or engaging in some way toward our students or with our students. There are so many ways we can set goals about the relational aspect of our work, insofar as connecting with students is concerned.
We can also set goals and be growing in the way we connect with our colleagues and maybe our peers in the professional community, as well as the larger professional development community we’re part of. This might be our school site, even if we’re virtual, they all belong to our same organization. Maybe they are in our networking group. Maybe they are people we got our degree with, but we don’t necessarily work with them.
There are all kinds of ways we can think about goal setting in relationships and that could have to do with the quality of the relationship or how often we check in with these people, how we maintain that relationship, and what we do around those connections with people.
And then the third area I would suggest in relational goal setting is introspection and reflective practice. This one really is about ourselves and our relationship with ourselves. It’s sort of that metacognitive reflective piece about what we think about what we’re doing.
We are there the whole time and we really are alone there in our teaching role. We typically don’t have other educator peers watching us all day long or giving us feedback. And in a sense, we’re really the best person to give ourselves some feedback about how we see our own performance.
But in order to do that, we need to reflect regularly so that we can become somewhat more objective about what we’re doing. It’s very difficult to evaluate our own teaching when we are the person doing the teaching. But when we do it more regularly, we become more able to do that.
Setting Technological Goals
The second area of goal-setting that I mentioned was technological. There are a lot of us online these days, and so many using learning management systems. If you’re using a learning management system, whether it’s Blackboard or Brightspace, Desire2Learn, Canvas, it could be one of many, you might be using Schoology.
Whatever it is, there are a lot of basic ways to use the learning management system, and there are also a lot of advanced ways to do that. If you have areas you want to learn to do differently, one of those goals setting spaces could be about the technology in your learning management system. Perhaps you want to find new ways to use it, or more fully get to know the system that you’re with. Either way, that’s one area.
Another technology-based area for goal setting could be apps, media, video creation, and ways to convey lessons and content. I have some foreign language teachers, or world language teachers, that I know who are always trying new things. They use an external program called Flipgrid that many of you might be familiar with. They also use VoiceThread.
There are always new tools coming up in the conversation. So if you’re not sure what kind of tools you’d like to try, chances are you have a colleague somewhere you could ask and simply start exploring.
And then thirdly, in the technology area, one might set goals in how they use the technology to grade students’ work, specifically. Like, are we putting reviewers comments on a Microsoft Word document? Or are we typing a question or a comment on an essay? How do we return that feedback? How do we write the feedback? Where does it go in a physical, technological sense, of the presentation of the feedback? That could include using your plagiarism detection software, learning how to do that or fully, figuring out how to note plagiarism, give comments about it, address lack of originality.
Developing Teaching Goals
We have the relational goals, we have the technological goals, and then thirdly, we have teaching goals. And I’ve just broken down three examples here for you that you might think about. One of them is the way we evaluate students’ work in terms of our approach, the quality. Previously, I mentioned the technology piece. Well, this would be more about the philosophical elements.
What is most important to you in your feedback? What kinds of feedback would you like to give students? Would you like to take a different approach? Do you want to focus more on content and less on the structure? Would you like to include more formatting elements in your feedback? Whatever it is you’d like your focus to be, that’s a whole area right there.
And a second teaching area might be methods, approaches, and framing. About how to share the content, how to get students talking to each other, even in the online space. How to have the interactivity that is needed in terms of practice, repeat, mastery, formative, summative, evaluation strategies.
A lot of the methods and approaches we use tend to be through text. Like, we’ve typed it. Or we want our students to read something. But there are many, many ways out there. We can use video. We can use different types of web sources where they can click and do a scavenger hunt to find things. There are just a lot of possibilities. And so methods and approaches are a huge area of goal setting.
And the last teaching area I would suggest is the community piece. The way students engage with each other and the way you engage with students. How do we do that better? Or where might we try some new strategy there? It can be a small thing. It can be a large thing. It could grow over time. We’ve got technological, relational and teaching-oriented goals. And the fourth area is contributing or growing.
Goals to Help you Contribute or Grow
In this area, I have considered to be the most fun. While these other areas are all very important and can be a lot of fun as well. This one is fun because really, there’s no set of norms or established criteria, you really get to invent your path here.
One area is writing. Maybe you’d like to write blog articles for other instructors who teach online. Maybe you’d like to write a book. Maybe you want to write curriculum. Maybe you want to create new lesson content, maybe create some new material for students or for the bigger professional community. Maybe you want to write a text book.
There are so many ways you can write as a professional educator that contribute a lot to the field. There are many things that you know that you might take for granted, that other people don’t know. And if you start writing about that, it’s going to be a really great contribution to your community.
Another thing you might consider in this avenue is attending. This could be attending a class, all up way up to getting an advanced degree or trying a secondary subject area. Maybe it’s not going to be academic subjects, maybe it’s going to be online teaching strategies.
There are all kinds of online trainings out there. Maybe your institution has one, or maybe you want to look outside of your school community for the professional community, like the Online Learning Consortium. There are a lot of different places you can go to get certifications, training and leadership potential. And so I would consider classes, trainings, and different kinds of things like that in this attendance arena, as well as professional conferences.
You might consider attending a professional conference in the coming semester, the coming year. Making a regular habit of attending professional conferences. Even in the virtual world that is having an impact at the time of this recording, there are a lot of online conferences to attend. Whether you can go live in person or attend online, this is another place where you might consider setting a goal.
And lastly, presentations. Even if you are not an extroverted person, or you don’t really like speaking to groups, you might consider stretching by giving presentations. You might create a webinar if you’re doing it online or consider presenting at a professional conference.
My very first presentation was motivated by the fact that I saw someone similar in my field presenting to our audience. I saw her. I watched her presentation. I thought, “I know those things. I do those things. Maybe I have other ideas people would like to learn about.” And then I created my own presentation on a different topic, and I shared it. And sure enough, a lot of people came and learned things and even reached out to me afterwards.
You might have information that you know, or skills you have or knowledge about how to teach or how to teach online, and other people could learn from you. Think about what you might present and share and start looking for possibilities where you can contribute and grow, and add to the professional culture at a conference.
Setting Personal Goals
We’ve talked about the what of goal setting. And if you’re still thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to set some goals, but none of that appeals to me,” there are of course goals you could set in other areas that would still have a very positive impact on your online teaching. Maybe there are unresolved matters in your life that you’d like to focus on as a goal. Maybe you have something you need to take care of in your family life or your home life. A lot of people right now are focusing on decluttering, minimalism, cleaning up their homes.
Sometimes professional communication training can be useful. Maybe learning how to manage email better, how to be more prompt and responsive. There are all kinds of things that could be thought about in terms of health and emotional balance, financial goals, career development goals, relationship building in personal matters, life planning for the long-term, and the development of special projects you’re interested in.
There are so many possibilities for you. And if you are not interested in your academic type of professional goals, teaching strategies, or technology areas, you might consider ways that you can throughout the online teaching day, reduce stress, or ways that you might integrate exercise intermittently throughout the week.
Maybe methods that you’ll approach students to help them be more responsible, more accountable and more proactive. There are all kinds of things you might consider about career growth, like additional training, the way you approach the work day, time management. The path of your bigger picture career, whether you’d like to be in a different leadership role in the future, or if you’d like to change lanes and go in a slightly new direction in the future. Or maybe you’d like to upgrade your professional standing. As I mentioned before, with a different degree or an advanced degree.
How to Stay Motivated to Achieve Your Goals
And then lastly, of course, some type of ideas around retirement in the long-term, in the future. Long-term plans, as far as would you like to be mentored? Would you like to mentor others? Would you like to integrate some kind of vision into your long-term planning as well as your career growth?
As you think about your goals and the way you’d like these to shape up, motivation comes up a lot, right? We think about, ‘Yes, I’d like to do these things, but then the day-to-day kind of gets in the way.” We get busy and it could be very difficult to meet the goals that we set for ourselves.
Think about the motivation that you bring to that goal. Is it exciting? Is it in an area you’re already interested in and you do it well? Are there things you don’t do well or dislike and you’re trying to set a goal there?
In those kinds of areas, I would suggest starting very small for some quick wins so that you can start to make progress in areas you don’t like as much, or you’re not as good at. Then you can start setting bigger goals. If you’re already doing well at something, and you like the activity, you might be able to set bigger goals, slightly more ambitious goals, aspirational goals, even. Think about your level of motivation as you’re considering the goals that you’re going to land on.
Now, lastly, we’re going to talk about how to move from setting the goal to actually achieving the goal. You’ve probably heard of setting smart goals and these have to do with being specific, reasonable, achievable, and timely, and all of those sorts of details. Those are the kinds of things that are going to bring you success.
We want to think about what success will look like. When you’ve reached this goal, what will it look like? What will it feel like? What will become easier in your professional life because you’ve gone down this path? What will the big payoff be for this change that you’re bringing about, or this goal you’re going to achieve?
What will happen if you don’t do your goal? Is there a negative consequence that’s going to keep happening if you don’t learn the thing or grow in that area? What strategies will you use to make your success happen over time or regularly look back on your goal?
And can you think about someone in your life who has made some progress in this area, who is working towards the same goal, or who has already achieved it? And if you can, what can you learn from them? Or what tips could you ask them for that would help you?
Develop an Action Plan by Identifying Steps, Setting Deadlines, Staying Accountable
In your action plan, think about what small steps you will need to take first and what the next step will be afterwards. And jot down three action steps you can take between now and next week, as you think about the goal.
Think about the most important step to help you move forward towards that goal, and also set a timeline. You can add it to your planner, your calendar. If you have an online calendar, you can set alerts and alarms and reminders to get back to the goal and to be checking in on it. If you’re looking at it regularly and taking steps towards it regularly, chances are you’re going to achieve it.
And then lastly, do you need some accountability to help yourself reach your goal? There are a lot of professional groups, especially online that you could join. People who are making progress in the same direction that you’re looking at. If you want to be with online educators and work on technology goals or methods, you could probably find a group for that and be checking in on those steps you’re going to take.
If you’re setting a personal goal, that’s not necessarily teaching related, such as weight loss, time management, something like that, there are groups for that too. Or maybe you want to find a mentor or a coach or a peer to be accountable to. So you can check in with that person regularly, share your progress, and celebrate.
Whatever you’re going to need, knowing yourself and the accountability level you’d like, think about what’s going to help you be most successful, and write that down and note it as part of your plan.
As we draw to a close today, I encourage you to think about setting professional goals as an online educator, both short-term and long-term, to help you stay excited about what you do, to help you keep growing and to help bring energy to your day-to-day work and your long-term direction.
Thank you for being here and I wish you the best in the coming week in your online teaching. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.