4 Setting SMART objectives

There are ways in which you can construct the statements in your PDP to ensure that your development objectives are carefully planned, concise and achievable. Although a well- constructed objective does not necessarily guarantee that it will be achieved, it is a good start, because it has key aspects that stimulate you to make sure it happens. The discipline of writing good objectives can be used in many contexts beyond PDP. A very popular acronym used to describe the key aspects of a good objective is ‘SMART’, meaning:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely (or time-bound).

Objectives set out what you as a school leader are trying to achieve. This does not necessarily mean that you will have to undertake all the tasks associated with the objective(s). It is important that they are clear and understood by everyone associated with the processes; if they are, this will lead to their successful implementation.

It is important that you have clear and measurable indicators, because they provide a definition of the success of the initiative. Achievable and realistic objectives engage and motivate individuals. When your objectives look unrealistic, you put yourself and others under immense pressure. This can have a knock-on effect on people’s level of commitment or ability to meet them. It is important to have clear time indicators so that everyone knows by when an objective has to be achieved – or, if it is not likely to be achieved, whether to put in place measures to address any mitigating issues.

Now look at some key action verbs that can help in constructing SMART objectives.


To be specific, an objective should have a description of a precise or specific behaviour, achievement or outcome. It is also helpful if it can be related to a percentage, frequency, rate or number. To increase specificity, use verbs that are action-orientated to describe those actions that need to be taken to fulfill the objective(s).

Action verbs include ‘create’, ‘develop’, ‘design’, ‘analyse’, ‘execute’, ‘change’, ‘modify’, ‘identify’ and ‘prepare’.


Ensuring that your objective is measureable is hugely important because it tells you whether you have achieved your objective or not. You will gather evidence through a data collection instrument (observing, tracking and recording behaviours, asking questions, etc.) or using a predefined system or procedure in your school as required by the state authority. The tool you use to measure your objective should help you to generate the required evidence to support your claims of success. You should consider the following questions:

  • How will I know that the change has occurred?
  • How can these measurements be obtained?


An objective is achievable if:

  • you know it is measurable and you can gather evidence of its impact
  • others have already done it, meaning that, in principle, it is possible to achieve
  • any limitations and constraints have been carefully considered.

It is not worth setting an objective that relies heavily on resources that are not readily available or may be difficult to obtain in the future. It is a risk that has to be carefully managed if the target is to be achieved.


The realistic aspect of your objective is closely linked to whether it is achievable or not. While objectives should be realistic, this does not mean that they need to be easy. Objectives can be set that are demanding, but not to the extent that the chance of success is small. Realistic objectives take into account the available resources, such as skills required, financial resources, equipment, technology and so on. You should consider whether:

  • it is possible to achieve the objective
  • the resources to achieve the objective are available.

Timely (or time-bound)

Allocating a deadline to an objective is closely linked to ensuring that it is measurable. Because you will be collecting evidence at a specified time to ascertain whether you have met the objective, it is imperative that you specify when you expect the objective to be achieved. A deadline also helps to create the necessary urgency, prompts action and focuses the minds of those who are accountable.

Activity 5: Setting SMART objectives individually and for your school

The objective-setting process can seem daunting, but it does not necessarily have to be. It can be as simple as sitting down with your broad development goals and using SMART to reconstruct the statement. At school level, you can do this by going through a departmental or school year plan and considering how it can be met. Doing so is the foundation for setting the objectives. Everyone within the school should have a clear understanding of the objectives, as well as an awareness of their own roles and responsibilities in achieving them.

Now go back to Activity 4 and rewrite your PDP objectives so that they are SMART. Consider when you hope to complete these objectives, how you will undertake them and the resources you will require.

When you have finished, try out your SMART technique by addressing a wider organisational goal rather than a personal one. Use a template based on Resource 2 to write a SMART objective for your school at an operational or strategic level. (The resource includes an example of establishing a homework policy to show you how a SMART goal can be defined.) You can refer to the action words discussed earlier. You can have more than one objective for a goal that is expressed in broad terms like the one used in this example.

Activity 6: Planning your PDP

In your notes, you should have identified some of your strengths and weaknesses, and maybe some problems that have become apparent in your practice. Are there any areas where you need to develop or adjust your skills in order to better support your teachers, students or the wider community?

Consider what you need to work on and make notes in your Learning Diary about how you will find support and guidance to develop your knowledge or skills. Try to think beyond courses or training events; include self-study or connecting with experienced colleagues to share knowledge or skills. You can use the Resource 3 template as a tool for planning your PDP for the forthcoming year.

You will probably list the training provided by your DIET, which may have a specific focus such as time-management; or you may choose to be proactive and seek out your own development opportunities such as mentoring from a master trainer. You may already know of online resources, such as TESS-India materials, that may be helpful. There are also books, conferences and networks that can provide you with useful input.

Remember that any plan needs to be monitored and evaluated to check on progress and recognise when actions need to be taken to get your plan back on track. You could give yourself updates at periodic intervals over the year to check on your own progress and a final date to evaluate your achievements.

3 Planning your development