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Providing Clear and Concise Learning Objectives and Progressions

STRATEGY: Set clear learning objectives aligned with state standards for all students.

Principals and other school leaders know how important state and national content-area standards are and how they need to be aligned with written and taught curriculum. They also know about the challenges involved in keeping instruction tied to these standards while also providing students with authentic learning experiences in the twenty-first century. How can a leader help teachers and students stay focused on what they are learning in a lesson, a class, and throughout the school year, and how does this learning contribute to college and career readiness? What can a school leader do to improve or enhance this effort? Why is setting clear learning objectives so important for district and school leaders?

A major goal of teaching is to help students connect their learning experiences to their goals and aspirations, to be motivated and engaged in the process, and, at the same time, to be able to show mastery of the learning standards. Clear learning objectives can help guide the teaching and learning of all students, including those with personalized and individualized plans. What can principals do to help teachers align their learning objectives and lesson plans with standards? Principals can model by using objectives to guide their meetings. They can provide professional learning for teachers within grades and content areas to develop strong expertise in the school. While teachers can set clear learning objectives in their individual classrooms, making the practice systemic is an important role for the school-level leader. Clear learning objectives help teachers stay focused on what and how they teach, and help students monitor their own learning. Whether in a job or postsecondary learning, students will need to be able to align their activities with set objectives.


Setting clear learning objectives can become common practice in classrooms when school leaders provide a system to guide teachers and students. When teachers work together with this as a common goal, they support each other in developing well-aligned lessons and assessments that can drive rigorous teaching and learning that is both content specific and also broad enough to engage students in authentic, work-based learning.

Simply put, setting clear learning objectives requires all staff to know the standards that guide their subject matter and interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Setting clear learning objectives also benefits from having teachers work together within their departments and across subject areas and grades. When there are strong interdisciplinary structures in place, teams of teachers work with leaders to outline objectives that are high impact in increasing student proficiency and outcomes.

First Steps to Consider

  • Determine where strong alignment of standards already exists and where it doesn’t exist.
  • Identify good practices within the school, the district, and outside the system.
  • Review curriculum, textbooks, and resources to show clear learning objectives aligned to standards.
  • Use models or successful practices (teachers, schools, districts) as a place from which to build more capacity and systemic alignment.
  • Model setting clear objectives when developing materials for the curriculum and instructional program.
  • Develop or solicit resources that demonstrate clear learning objectives and show alignment with the standards.
  • Provide professional learning opportunities that directly support teachers in developing objectives aligned with standards.
  • Promote sharing of resources and lessons among teachers to build and enhance capacity.

Complexities & Pitfalls

  • Using instructional materials in classrooms that are not aligned to current standards.
  • Not completely understanding the standards, which can make the process more complex for leaders.
  • Insufficient teacher collaboration structures (e.g., professional learning communities).
  • Focusing on this topic at the expense of other needs within a school or instructional program.

Guiding Questions

  • What does available data say about the performance of students in the school?
  • What does the available data say about student subgroup performance on the state standards?
  • Does the school or district have a set of practices that are used to set learning objectives?
  • Are there resources available to support teachers?
  • Where are the successes within the school or in other schools within the district?
  • How does the school celebrate the practices and successes in this area?