Setting Student’s Goals; Setting Teachers Free
“How to Make your Arranged Marriage Successful” For a conference on co-teaching, the title seemed an understatement if anything. In these relationships the key to success, nay survival is good communication.
In a co-taught inclusive classroom, the special education teacher and the general education teacher work together to ensure the implementation of both the curriculum objectives of the class and the Individual Education Plan (IEP)  of each special education student. Although the implementation of the IEP is the primary responsibility of the special education teacher, s/he will work with all the students in the class and not just with students with disabilities.
When working with a co-teacher all your plans and decisions must be explicitly articulated, and agreed to by someone other than yourself. For those who have never had the pleasure of co-teaching, this negotiation process can best be compared to moving in with someone for the first time. Both situations make you question your most basic assumptions, and you find yourself struggling to justify previously subconscious decisions. Ultimately, the best relationships, co-teaching included, are those that make this negotiation process easy and efficient.
We were like deer in the headlights of a heat-seeking missile. Both first year teachers, we were standing at the front of our 5th period English class when we first met. Our schedules prevented us from ever seeing each other outside of class. My new teaching responsibilities were all-consuming, so it took months for me to realize that she was also “arranged” to co-teach with two other teachers. I’ll never forget that realization; in that moment, I knew this job would kill us.
My co-teaching relationship was what got me through that first year. Like marriage, I had to share my space, authority, routine, and time, and by letting go, I gained the strength of two.
The amount of work required to communicate with someone whom I am not otherwise scheduled to see or speak with outside of the class was exhausting. Over the course of this summer, however, I had the pleasure of speaking with Daniel Yoo, a former special educator, and founder Goalbook, a program that addresses the very heart of this communication melt-down.
The Heart of the Problem
Learning objectives and goals are the mountains we ask our students to climb each day and teaching is the celebration of taking each step with them. This interpretation resonates with the Goalbook logo—a flag planted at the summit’s peak. This resonance, I later learned, was not superficial.
As a special educator, Daniel struggled with a lot of the same difficulties that I face when establishing, and tracking my students IEP goals. “Even if each of my students had only three or four goals,” Daniel explains, “it only took a few students before I felt overwhelmed.” Working with students on an IEP, entails far more than setting and keeping track of goals; it also requires the educator to coordinate with other members of the student’s team, which includes a regular education teacher, a special education teacher, parents/guardians, a representative of special education department, and other professionals and specialists relevant to the student’s needs. At the very heart of our struggle is the issue of tracking—tracking student’s goals and tracking down an entire team of players and providing each one with updates on the student’s progress. As if that wasn’t enough tracking to turn me into a bloodhound, each student may have a completely different set of individuals on his or her team. Realizing the struggle he faced, Daniel decided to build a program that would solve these problems. Working to create a program that could bring goals and team members together in one place online, Daniel’s heroic efforts resulted in the creation of Goalbook.
Goalbooks allows teachers to post student objectives and track (both qualitatively and quantitatively) a student’s progress towards meeting those objectives. Goals are tracked with written records, as well as displayed visually on a chart. Besides providing a common space to create and maintain a student’s goals, Goalbook enables teachers to update and “celebrate” a student’s progress with the student’s entire team. Having had the pleasure of reviewing Goalbook in both its alpha and beta version, it is without hesitation that I offer a detailed overview of the features that make Goalbook the latest “teacher approved technology”
Features of The Latest Teacher Approved Technology
Feature 1: Celebration!
I’m not speaking metaphorically here! There is actually a “celebrate” window, with a default setting that sends celebratory updates to team members. The celebration box, is by far one of the coolest things I’ve seen all summer, because it improves the teacher’s ability to share a student’s success, and instills celebration as a part of the teacher’s vernacular and daily routine for recording a student’s progress towards his/her goal. Given the frustrating and esteem grinding nature of trying to reach a difficult goal, even the most spirited and resilient students will be overwhelmed by the task. These students, and the teachers who work with them, need frequent reminders of the distance we have travelled since leaving the base of the mountain. Let’s face it, both teachers and students work hard every single day, and our hard work is unsustainable if we hold off on celebrating until after we reach the summit!
This update/celebration box is magical. Seriously! I am able to leave updates by typing them online or using my phone to leave a 1 minute voice message that can be heard directly from the browser. While this feature is especially important for special education teachers who work at more than one school, it is also convenient for educators like myself, who have some of our greatest insights while stuck in traffic, at the grocery store, or getting dinner ready.
Feature 2: Goal Setting and Tracking for the 21st Century
When adding a goal, you can select how you want to measure the student’s progress. The default setting will measure the student’s progress as a percent. Alternatively, you can measure the progress as the number of objectives completed. Both options recognize that students will be inconsistent when trying to master a new skill; a significant amount of practice is often required for a student to demonstrate mastery on a consistent basis. Both methods of measurement give you the ability to plot the mini-objectives that students meet as they progress towards their ultimate goals. Using this metric regularly gives me a visual of their progress as well as a sense of any patterns or anomalies in the student’s skill development.
Feature 3: Protecting Student Privacy
Because this is such an important element of the program, I will be posting additional information on privacy protections that I gained during a recent interview with Daniel. This post should be available early next week. For now, however, let me convey a few important facts, starting with a word of warning. Having met the necessary criteria, your Goalbook password will make all your other passwords feel inadequate. Besides creating a very strong password, you will also be required to provide Goalbook with the email address issued to you by your district (i.e. no, I couldn’t use my MsHappyTeacher@gmail.com or LoveSummerVaca@Yahoo.com). Once your account is verified, you will still be blocked from seeing anything other than the initials and photo of students in your school system. The only way to see additional information or updates on the student’s progress is by getting added to a student’s team by either an administrator or a current team member. Speaking of administrators, those interested in using Goalbook at their school need to sign up for a verified administrator account, which will allow them to select the type of security plan that best meets their school’s needs. For those wanting more details about the extensive protections Goalbook has in place, details gleaned from a recent discussion with Daniel are available here.
Feature 4: Ease, Efficiency and Value
When first using the “alpha” version of Goalbook, I had the pleasure of navigating through a demo version with Daniel as a team member and Snoopy and Kim Possible as our students. When I had Snoopy as a student it was a mere click of a button for me to add Daniel as another team member, and two clicks to accept Daniel’s invitation to join Kim Possible’s team. Now in its beta form, I had to add student and generate my own goals independently. While setting up my team and students, I was unable to stop myself from noting the ease and liberating efficiency of the program. During the upcoming school year, Goalbook will save me time and resources, improve my practice, and provide valuable analytics that I am otherwise unable to create.
Goalbook: A Teacher Approved Technoloy for ALL Teachers
While this program may have been originally made for teachers who work with special education students, I will be using it this fall to keep track of all my students’ writing goals. Originally reviewed when it was in its “alpha” stage, Goalbook was already a highly promising technology with a few bugs to work out. Now, this “beta” technology, is capable of making me a more effective teacher and empowering my co-teaching team. Those interested in using Goalbook for themselves should visit goalbookapp.com. I promise you won’t be disappointed!