This post is week 5 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.
I've been doing the Hot Lunch Tray eight week challenge. Unlike other challenges, it does not require me to eat responsibly or beat myself up with ice water or plastic gerbils. I'm answering the questions as my old pre-retirement self. You can see what other folks are writing by checking out the #8WeeksofSummer hashtag. So here's this week's prompt:
What is your BHAG for next school year?
That's "Big Hairy Audacious Goal" for those of you haven't sat through professional development that pushes this kind of thing.
So I guess I have to address this one with a confession-- in thirty-nine years of teaching, I never set a BHAG. For that matter, I not sure I know anyone who did.
back to Rule 10: Shut up and do the work.
I always had goals. Any teacher who's worth their salt (or cod, or whatever you want to trade in)always has goals, because any decent teacher can tell you, right now, the list of things that she knows she needs to get better at. There's never enough time, and while we refine and refine our game, it's never perfected. So teachers have projects, all the time. Get faster at assessing papers. Reconfigure the room. Rebuild the reading list. Incorporate ideas from that book/video/presentation that set my brain on fire. Come up with a better approach for that unit I can never quite sell.
Are any of those goals hairy and audacious? I don't know. I don't know how you would upscale them. But-- and I guess this is also where BHAG rubs me the wrong way-- what is wrong with setting a goal of substantially improving your classroom practice? It may not be stunningly dramatic, but it will certainly benefit the students, and you'll enjoy feeling like you've gotten a better handle on the job you love.
I mean, yes, do something. There is no surer sign that a teacher has started become a lousy teacher than a declaration, spoken or un-, that they have everything pretty well figured out and there's nothing they really need to work on. Don't do nothing. And if you can't think of anything you need to work on, it may be that you are just done in the classroom. Spend your summer job hunting.
I also worry about the effect of setting a BHAG you don't reach (I once heard a presenter argue that a BHAG should seem unattainable). If you end up wasting energy, paying an opportunity cost, and feeling like you failed, well-- that doesn't seem helpful.
I don't want to be dismissive of those who have BHAGs. Maybe the big jolt or drama and adrenaline is just what you need, or maybe you feel the need to blast yourself out of a rut. That's fine. I may the kind of person who makes you bored, and you may be the kind of person who makes me tired. The world, and the students, needs all kinds. But BHAGs seem vaguely accusatory, like those Facebook posts from your friends at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro while all you've got is a picture of the mess you made trying to feed your toddlers avocados. "Audacious" is a word that wants to brag "I just had to take it further than ordinary mortals," and it hard to send that message without also sending the message that ordinary mortals are just not so great.
Maybe my BHAG was to keep improving professionally for 39 years, to better at juggling more balls and doing it more efficiently, to run the race as a really long marathon and not a sprint. Maybe it was to push my own personal envelope just one more notch each year. But I was never a superhero teacher and nobody ever came back in the fall breathlessly wondering what new mountain i had conquered since last May. And I was-- and am-- always okay with that.
So if you're working on your BHAG, good for you. And if you are just plugging away at the goal of doing your job better than you did before, I'm here to tell you that your goals don't have to be larger than life in order to be worthy of your time and effort. Set goals that help you grow and improve as a teacher and don't worry about whether they have hair on them.