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September 08, 2016

9 SGO Survival Tips from New Jersey Principals

a head shot phot of blog author Nichelle. She is smiling

Nichelle Smith

Your students might still have the back-to-school giggles, but already you may be feeling the pressure of state deadlines creeping in.

If student growth objectives (SGOs) are a big part of your start-of-year stress, you aren’t alone. In a recent poll, 41% of NJ administrators admitted to struggling with the burden that SGOs put on time and resources.

Don’t lose faith. There are fantastic ways to guide teachers to a successful year with student growth objectives. We asked 50 New Jersey principals what advice they’d give to their peers. Here’s what they said.

1. Remember that Goal-Setting is Healthy

Remind your staff that high achievers in all fields are often terrific goal-setters.  Work with teachers to reframe this process as motivational, like taking a “Before” picture at the start of a fitness challenge.

Allison Evans, Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction at Carlstadt School District, says:

Encourage teachers to create SGOs that are relevant and meaningful to their practice. In other words, don’t create a goal to just meet the SGO requirement. Make it a goal that you really will be working toward throughout the school year. That way, the data is a tool to inform instruction, not just another mandated task to complete.”

2. Start with the Standards

When developing an SGO, teachers should be careful to not run themselves ragged trying to recreate the wheel. The standards give us a natural starting point, so teachers can:

  1.  Target content areas aligned with Common Core or state standards.
  2.  Choose assessments aligned to both the standards and the curriculum.
  3.  Avoid the feeling of “double work” by re-using standard-aligned assessments they already give.

3. Do your research!

As captain of the ship, your ability to deftly navigate questions about student growth objectives will greatly improve your chances to actually capture the benefits of the process.

Get savvy on all the resources provided on the State of New Jersey’s website. They share great examples of how to set your student growth objectives, best practices, training materials available to administrators, FAQs, etc. Review documents from the state and develop an organized system to help support teachers throughout the process.

4. Start early

The longer you wait to engage teachers about SGOs, the more apt they are to hit frustrating roadblocks trying to figuring it out. Find ways to get SGOs moving sooner.  One way is to bake coaching opportunities into existing meetings, like this high school principal from Burlington County:

“Embed the process into a pre-conference or PDP review meeting to create a coherent package for new teachers who may not fully understand how teaching and learning are meant to be measured through the SGO process.”

Initiating the process earlier also gives teachers more time to help each other in drafting SGOs.

5. Keep everyone in the loop

One-on-one communication is key to this process.  However, don’t forget to find ways to check-in with the entire staff at important milestones in the process.  Use this time to be as transparent as possible with expectations, especially for the benefit of new teachers.

Got a few SGO rockstars in-house?  Don’t be afraid to celebrate them publicly so the staff has another place to turn with tough questions.

6. Double-down on differentiation

Now that teachers have a bit of SGO experience under their belts, challenge them to really commit to differentiating learning targets for students.

This is an opportunity to work on striking a balance between aggressive vs. attainable goal-setting, and should hopefully align with the teacher’s in-class efforts to individualize instruction.

7. Offer support

Setting SGOs can be a stressful and time-consuming process. Work closely with teachers on SGO development, be flexible and listen to their concerns. If your teachers are tight on time, plan an in-service day as a working session for student growth objectives. Let them know they’re not in this alone.

8. Pace yourself

Read through several SGOs before making any corrections. Try to look at the process with a less critical eye. Tearing apart teachers’ SGOs won’t help matters any. Instead, sit down, talk with them, and share your constructive criticism.

9. Track everything

Have a system in place to track everything you do. Better yet, adopt a software solution to automate scoring and better manage the entire SGO process.

For example, OnCourse Student Growth add-on makes it painless for staff to create goals, upload assessments, align to standards, and submit for administrative review. You can enjoy an intuitive system aligned to the state’s procedural and reporting guidelines.

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