goals, learning and contracts

after my post about small and SMART goals on garfield’s blog, i got inspired to write another one at brainblogger about the pitfalls and benefits of goal setting, this time taking a bit more of an academic slant. larry ferlazzo took up that post and talked about goal setting in the classroom. it made me think about learning goals. i won’t get much into this right now but i found it interesting that when i was googling around a bit about the topic, pretty much everything i saw were not really learner-directed goals. they were either goals clearly set by the teachers, or contracts that were not really contracts, i.e. they don’t meet the criterion of containing mutual promises. a lot of learning contracts (and contracts in counselling, too, by the way) are of the mafia sort: if you don’t pay up, we’ll break your leg. fortunately, there is usually little leg-breaking involved in learning or counselling contracts but they tend to be one-sided. the promises by one party (e.g. the learner) are numerous and clearly laid out, and often there are no promises made by the other party, or they are not specified.


  1. How very true.

    I do think the time wasted from learning and therapy contracts is way more than for a broken limb to heal. (Less physically painful of course).

    Whether they are less damaging to the person and destructive in their lives . . .

  2. Goals have always been trouble for me when I set specific ones. I tend to be goal oriented without thinking about it though so do get things accomplished. Its the thinking about the goals part that messes things up for me. Go figure!

  3. they’re tricky, aren’t they, will? now i DO know that formal goal setting works for some people, but i haven’t quite figured out whether they have any characteristics in common. maybe you’re a bit like a guy i know who laughs when people talk about formal goal setting, saying that by the time he’d think about and write down his goals, he’d have gotten five things done 🙂

    evan, this is interesting. i remember the first time i ever got talked into a contract by a counsellor, about 20 years ago. she didn’t keep her end of the deal. the fact that i can still vividly remember it says something …

  4. I think that ‘talked into’ says an awful lot about that counsellor and how they did therapy!

    There’s some great stuff in Claude Steiner’s Scripts People Live – on what a valid contract is. Don’t know if you have come across it.

  5. evan, i need to be fair there – “talked into”, if i remember correctly, refers to the fact that it was her idea. i think i really liked the idea, which was why i was so disappointed when she didn’t hold up her part. it is one of the major reasons why i when i promise to do something, i give my clients a deadline by which i think i can do it and tell them that sometimes i forget and that they are more than welcome to remind me. and i always, always, always mean it when i give a promise.

  6. Hi, Isabella –

    I’d be interested to read your thoughts around goals vs. intentions . . .

    – Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)

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