Tony Gurr

Why “SMART Goals” are just “plain DUMB”…

In Classroom Teaching, Educational Leadership, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Learning on 30/12/2012 at 2:46 pm

…especially for TEACHers heading into…

2013 (new year)

The New Year is “nigh”…and my inbox has been filling up with notifications to check out the latest “Top 10 List of 2012” and…a few, just a few, posts on best practice in “goal-setting” for 2013.


OMG (TG ver 4 blog)


I say only a “few” posts on goals and targets because…well, it seems more than a few of us are more interested in “looking back” than “looking forward”. Maybe, that’s all part of the “quiet reflection” needed to get us to the “effective action” that Peter Drucker (and Shelly Terrell) were talking about this morning.


Both Shelly and Uncle Pete are right – we can all “grow through REFLECTion”


…it is “looking forward” and the “effective action” we plan for 2013 that is the key.


Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.50.06


This is why I was so keen to look at these posts on “goal setting” – especially, all that “SMART goal-setting” EDUfolk are talking about.

Now, if you are not up-to-speed on goal-setting – it’s all about PLANNING.

Horrid word!


But, in practice, many supporters of “goals” also try to flog their wares by telling us that the process of goal-setting allows us to:

Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.55.29


…while also reminding us that:

Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.55.06

Funny that! None of my dreams (ever) come with a deadline


The “SMART” version of goal-setting is all about doing that PLANNINGRIGHT”!

Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.53.27

Yani, if you do not “plan RIGHT”…you are “plain DUMB”!


Am I really? Shirously? You’ll be “asking” for something soon…good luck with that!


SMART is an acronym (an acronym we, in EDUcation, “borrowed” from the world of “busyness”).

“Busyness?” – yes, just hold that thunk for a second or three!


…an acronym that is more fully spelled out in this way:

Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.51.21

OK – …the “realistic” is often swapped around for “relevant” (and “time-bound” is frequently selected over “timely“)…but that’s just the small stuff we do not need to “sweat” too much!


Some “smartyER pants” have even done this:

Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.51.41


…but you get the “BIG picture”‘ yes?


Ne se…the “logic” goes like this: if we develop our goals or targets in line with the letters of this lovely little acronym, we will all become more “productive”more “effective”more “successful” (mış mış, yani)!


Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.54.33


For example, these are not  SMART goals:

  • I will endeavour to ensure that I LISTEN to my kids and help them all “love” LEARNing in all its wonderful shapes and forms!
  • I am gonna make sure that I “really, really” LEARN my kids how to SPEAK…this semester…in just 15 hrs!


Actually, on second thunks – that 2nd thunk “is” pretty SMART!


BUT…it is goals like this that really get an EDUmanager’s juices “flowing”:

  • I will hit my weekly pacing guidelines EVERY day and ensure 97% of my kids pass their weekly grammar tests – and go on to ace the end-of-year proficiency examination (at the end of the year, yani)!

OK – the language might be a bit “off”but the warm, tingly sensation that this SMART goal will give “rise” to will stick around longer than…


Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.58.52




…it simply does not work as the “manual” outlinesespecially for TEACHers!

And, to add insult to injury…ends up being nothing more than “busywork” (..makes sense now, yes? Even if it was not just a couple of seconds) handed down from EDUmanagement to EDUpractitioners that, more often than not, allows the aforementioned manager to “tick” a box somewhere!


I mentioned Pete Amca earlier…for a reason…two…actually:

Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 13.22.33


…He was a lot SMARTer than many EDUmanagers these days – especially those that “read-a-book-and-tell-the-world” – or (worse) – “read-a-blog-post-and-jump-without-thunking”!


This is why I “dropped” this whole idea of “SMARTness” in my goal-setting a few years back.

Nowadays, I sez this:


Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.48.20


A wee idea I “stole” from Mark Murphy – another “business” (not “busyness”) guy!



YES (red exlam tilted)

Not at all!


Go onhave a “guess” what this little acronym stands for (don’t scroll down)!

Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 13.37.05

I said…DON’T SCROLL DOWN! I asked nice


Now, check it with your “team” (or online PLN)…you have 3 minutes!


Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 12.05.20

Isn’t that first one so much better than “specific”?


I won’t mention “measurable“…promise! But, that “animated” one sounds kinda cool, too. Click HERE to take a closer look at all the others.


Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.54.10


We all know that…

Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 13.57.28

Don’t we?


We also “know” that:


TEACHing and LEARNing


…despite the fact that many of our institutions are doing their bestest to knock the “challenge” out of what we “do” – and the “creativity” of those that we do “it” with!


This is why we need to bring the “H” and “A” together with the “R” and “D” – in all we do…especially in any goal-setting we might do for 2013-14!


LEARNing Monkey (Abigail Adams quote TG ver)


I think this is why I like Shelly’s (no….did not forget her) “30 Goals Challenge for EDUcators” – take a look…not a SMART goal in sight…but lots of “dreams”lots of “inspiration”….and….lots of the RIGHT things to “do” across 2013…and into 2014, too!

Yes…some of them are “hard“, sure…but the HARDer the BETTER!


Thank You (road sign)


This is (probably) the last post of 2012 for moi…yes, Nazli Hanim (aka the “missuz”) has just confirmed this!

So it is probably the right time to THANK YOU ALL for your continued support of allthingslearning…but, more importantly, to wish YOU and YOURS…nothing but the BEST as we step into 2013!


Keep up the good fight!

If we DON’T…who WILL?


  1. What a terrific way to wrap up 2012 – just in time for new year resolutions. I enjoyed the great visuals, quotes and writing style. Glad I stumbled onto this blog and looking forward to the next post!

  2. Still digesting this one Tony!

    PIcture me instead of that monkey in Abigail’s quote and you’ll get the picture. 🙂

  3. Thank you for the link to a detailed description of HARD goals! I agree that a big problem with the items in the SMART acronym is that they tempt the bureaucrats. “Measurable” implies that statistics can/should be gathered, etc. As a goal-setting notion, though, it’s a personal question I might ask myself: what does ‘progress’ mean to me? I think the “Difficult” criterion still asks the “how much” question, but in a different way. SMART goals also leave out the emotional factor. Of course, this is critical! Why set a goal if I don’t have the spark that will see me through the work? In any case, I can see the components of SMART within HARD. It doesn’t repudiate them so much as build on them, in my opinion!

  4. I find setting measurable attainable goals very useful. Isn’t this just switching one acronym with another?

  5. Hello Mr. T,

    Thanks (as always) for the thunks.

    I love what you have to say hereBUT I also think there is room for breaking our dreams into smaller units….so that we can see where we are with them.

    I guess I don’t think that using/making SMART goals necessarily comes at the expense of dreams.

    I find that the SMART acronym is a nice way into planning for many teachers.
    (of course we can overdue it like we can overdue any of these smarty-pants ideas).

    I also personally find it helpful to think in terms of specific/time-bound-measurable things. This is to say that when I don’t have a specific goal, I am much less likely to keep in progress towards my dream.

    You know by now that you are not going to get me to to defend mindless box ticking and MANAGers getting in the way of TEACHers, right?

    I do think that when there is solid reasoning behind such objectives they can be helpful for teachers (or anyone really) to see how they are progressing towards their goals.

    For me SMART objectives are one way of looking at things that I find personally helpful to see what track I am on.

    Ok, I think I should stop here, as I don’t want to rob all my thoughts from a potential blog post!

    Thanks for everything in 2012…roll on 2013.

    Warm wishes from Seoul,


    • Mike,

      TY…as ever 🙂

      Yes, agreed…I like what you say about “solid reasoning” 🙂 I would be the first to say I do not like telling people the best way to do anything (unless it it is how to make a decent curry…when you do not have everything you need – I do THAT pretty well) 🙂 People should do what “feels” right for them…in their context…with the people they work with.

      The post was a bit of a “rant” – and yes, I get, that YOU get that 🙂 It is never about the “acronym” – it is about the motives behind the process. If we can get that “right”, we can use whatever LETTERS we want 🙂

      Happy, happy NY – my friend 🙂


  6. Hi again Tony, I see that your subversive (in a good way) comments are stimulating some discussion! Just wanted to pass on that I spent a lot of yesterday reflecting on the additional ideas in Mr. Murphy’s HARD goals document that you linked to above. I totally recommend it to anyone else browsing here! I’ve had goal-setting on my mind a lot lately, mostly a struggle to do it meaningfully (self and LEARNers) while also meeting bureaucratic mumbo-j… I mean, requirements. Got some thoughts about “outcomes” coming on my blog soon. Thanks for the inspiration! Kathy

  7. Love what you’re doing here, Tony, your bloggery, also excellent ‘ammunition’/food for thought for my present place of employment, which trogs along, steadily backwards (G’iz a job…)

    Here’s wishing you and yours a happy, healthy and successful 2013.


  8. You may want to check out, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals, habits, and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, and most of all, really works!

  9. […] I’m not a big fan of FE jargon- when I first started at an FE College in the late 90s, I managed to sit through a management meeting and understand virtually nothing because of the sheer number of impenetrable acronyms. So SMART targets isn’t something I personally find vvery helpful, and neither does Tony Gurr: Why SMART Goals are just plain dumb. […]

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