By Rebecca González
When teachers start a new school year, many of us are asked to set goals for ourselves in the classroom, our students and the entire school. We typically look at the previous scores of our new students and base goals on “where they are.” Are they a “bubble child,” a child with learning disabilities, dyslexia, or simply, a child whose older sibling set low expectations for their success because they performed poorly in school before them.
It is time to stop setting goals around what these “pre-existing conditions” dictate are possible outcomes. It is time we set what brain researcher Eric Jensen calls “gaudy goals” - goals that are daring and seemingly impossible, but achievable nonetheless.
Brain science tells us that gaudy is possible. I have been studying and attending 100’s of hours of workshops by Eric Jensen. He explains that positive emotions through strategies such as gaudy goal setting can cause motivation and attitude changes in the brain.
As a classroom teacher I thought, what do I expect from my students and what are my students expecting from me? It was these two questions, before anything, that had a great impact on my teaching method, classroom culture and my students’ achievement.
A student’s brain will begin to visualize their success with repetition and positive reinforcement. When a student hears their teacher telling them over and over that they will succeed, their brain begins to form mental pictures or “self-talk” about achieving that gaudy goal. The student then proceeds to work towards ensuring that success. However, if the student perceives a message with negative emotional context, they will likely withdraw. Instead of just asking our students to set their goals; we can set higher goals for them ourselves! I would set high expectations for my students (aka gaudy goals) with the intention that they can and will succeed.
Director James Cameron said, “Set your goals ridiculously high and you will fail above everyone else’s success.” Something to think about: If we are not failing, we are setting our goals too low.
Parents & Guardians need to know, too!
The question to think about is, what does the teacher expect from their students and what are the students expecting from their teacher. These two questions, before anything, have a great impact on student achievement.
I had the opportunity to share my gaudy goals with parents during campus open house and “meet your teacher nights.” This was before school started for the year, and I made a conscious effort to not look at any of my students’ past records. My room was ready and I waited anxiously for the arrival of my new school family. I greeted a hesitant parent with an excited, “I’m so glad to meet your, smile!” And hiding behind their parent with a look of, “I know I’m awful, I hate school,” was my new student.
I observed that many parents shared their child’s negative feelings about school due to their past experiences. They had grown to expect the same low outcomes for their child every year. School became about survival, not success.
I started by communicating my gaudy goals for their child in an effort to turn their attitudes around. I needed parents and guardians to believe what I believed. I told the student that she was going to have the most wonderful year ever. They were going to gain an appreciation of literature, and learn to love reading! They were going to be successful. They would be in the process of passing the state reading test and be promoted to high school.
My student looked up and she started to pay attention to what I was saying. And, under those dark bangs I could see a smile starting to grow, and their parents were smiling as well. I had planted the seeds of belief.
I had to reinforce to my students of their potential to reach my gaudy goals on a daily basis. Those seeds of belief sprouted, and they started to trust in me, and in themselves. They started to visualize the image of the gaudy goal in their brains. They could see it and hear it every single day. They started to believe me because I was their teacher and I believed they could. After all, the definition of gaudy isn’t impossible. Gaudy means bright, extravagant, ostentatious and daring. Gaudy goals are BIG, but they are achievable!
Have a comeback for the non-believers.
We should always have a comeback response ready for those who do not believe in our gaudy goals. In my experience, pushback came from adults who did not understand brain based instruction, brain research and how teaching in this way would result in the highest student outcomes.
You see, the majority of my students were the “non-passers.” I taught in a Title I school and my students included: special education students, English-language learners, dyslexia students, and of course those who were capable but never had a great experience with reading and/or did not meet reading benchmarks. These students had never passed the state reading test! My gaudy goal was to have a 100% student pass rate on the state reading test. I loved the challenge, but there were others that thought this was ludicrous.
This was my comeback to the doubters that challenged my gaudy goal: How could I set a goal for an 80% pass rate? How do I begin to explain to a parent/guardian that their child fell into the 20% that would have no chance of passing? What if that was your child? What does it say about how I will serve their child as their teacher?
Let’s just say that many of them didn’t have a response to my comeback.
Every student should be given a chance! I set the expectations very high for all of my students regardless of their individual academic challenges and struggles. My students knew that they were being held to the highest standard, and I invited them to meet the challenge daily. I also made sure they knew that I was going to do everything I could to help them reach that goal. They believed in my promise.
I used to tell my students that I was like Aladdin reaching my hand out to them for a magic carpet ride and saying, “Do you trust me?” Some students took a little longer to hop on that carpet, but by November and December, they all rode that carpet with me. They believed they were going to reach that gaudy goal, and trusted me to help them achieve it.
For the past five years I have had 98% - 100% of my non-passers PASS the State Reading Test! Setting gaudy goals works! If you believe in your students, they will believe in themselves. The power of the brain is AMAZING and with positive reinforcement, it can transform a child’s life!
I wanted to add...It’s important to understand how the brain works and how it processes what is being taught so we know how and what our students remember. Having them believe in their gaudy goals is the key to opening the door to what they can achieve. Successful gaudy goal setting requires a combination of knowing how the brain works, positive reinforcement and repetition. Gaudy goal setting doesn’t work without all of these key ingredients. It is powerful, and the transformation is INCREDIBLE to watch!
About Rebecca González
Rebecca is a graduate of The University of Texas at San Antonio. She has her Master’s Degree in Technology Integration from Walden University. She joins the SAReads family with 35 years of classroom experience; 18 years teaching in elementary grades K-5, and 17 years in middle school. Currently, Rebecca is an SAReads Literacy Facilitator and works with Southwest ISD to implement Science Based Reading Instruction (SBRI) in elementary school classrooms.