3.1 Establish Challenging Learning Goals

(Last Updated On: September 23, 2023)

What does this descriptor look like at different levels?

Establish challenging learning goals is the first descriptor of the third standard of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

See more: Australian Professional Standards for Teachers Terminology Explained

This focus area is about ensuring that you, as their teacher, have high expectations of your students. Setting goals is an essential life skill that needs to be taught. It is also a great way to direct your teaching and meet every student where they’re at.

Developing learning goals for your students that are at the right level for them is a real skill. It takes some time, training and practice to get the balance right. Making learning goals too easy or hard can mean your students’ learning suffers.


What does it look like?

At the Graduate level, teachers are expected to set learning goals that provide achievable challenges for students of varying abilities and characteristics.

At the Graduate level of this focus area, you’ll need to make sure that you set goals that your students can achieve. You need to be able to reach this level before you can graduate with your teaching degree, so the “challenging” part of this focus area isn’t necessary at this point.

At the Graduate level, you are only expected to know where each of your students is at and set learning goals that they will be able to achieve. This means all students, especially those with learning difficulties or disabilities.

See more: Engagement: How do we know if our students are really learning?

What evidence can I collect?

To provide evidence for this descriptor, you’ll need evidence that you’ve set achievable goals for your students.

This can come in a variety of forms:

  • Lesson or unit plans with multiple entry points and success criteria
  • Individual learning plans for students that give details of their individual learning goals.
  • Success criteria that are achievable for all students in your class.

Because this focus area level needs you to set the goals, you’ll need to do this for real students. This means that you’ll need evidence from your practical placement.

See more: 10 Tips to Make the Most of Your Teaching Placement


What does it look like?

At the Proficient level, teachers are expected to set explicit, challenging and achievable learning goals for all students.

Now you’re going to need to make the learning challenging!

Setting learning goals is a balancing act. You want to ensure that your students can achieve them, but you don’t want to make them too easy. If a learning goal is too easy, how much have they really learnt?

Making sure you get your students into the zone of proximal development will greatly impact their learning and academic success. As a teacher, you’ll need to get good at finding this balance for each student.

What evidence can I collect?

To become a Proficient teacher, you’ll need evidence that you’ve set goals for your students. This is the same for Graduate teachers.

The difference when moving to the Proficient career stage is that these goals need to also be challenging. You can’t just set the same accessible goals for your class now, you need to make sure that each student is challenged.

See more: The Different Teaching Styles: Which One Works for You?

You can use many of the same types of evidence for Proficient as you would for the Graduate career stage. Individual Learning Plans will be better pieces of evidence for moving to Proficient, and including samples of student work will show that your students can meet your goals.

Make sure that you annotate your evidence to tell more of the story. You want to use your evidence to describe the process you went through with setting goals and your students achieving them.

Highly Accomplished

What does it look like?

At the Highly Accomplished level, teachers are expected to develop a culture of high expectations for all students by modelling and setting challenging learning goals.

At this career stage, you need to go beyond just setting goals. To be a Highly Accomplished Teacher, you need to get students setting challenging goals for themselves.

Developing a culture is not an easy thing to do. You can’t do it through a single strategy or by putting a specific slide at the beginning of each lesson. Developing a culture requires you to leverage your relationships with your students. You’ll also need to embed the culture that you want into everything you do, starting with your language and actions.

Modelling learning goals is another key part of this descriptor. You can model setting goals for your students, sure. The real power of modelling goal setting comes from showing how you set challenging goals for yourself. As a Highly Accomplished Teacher, you will be expected to do this.

See more: Why Teachers Need to Admit When They Are Wrong

What evidence can I collect?

Collecting evidence of a classroom culture can be difficult. The easiest way to do this is through lesson observation. Ideally, you will have documentation from several lesson observations.

You’ll need to show that you model learning goals and that your students are confident in setting them for themselves. You can’t do this through curriculum documents or lesson plans, as it is all about your actions in the classroom. It’s about those tiny decisions that you make in every interaction that you have with your students.

If you’re looking at becoming a Highly Accomplished Teacher, make sure that you let the person observing your lessons know what to look for. This will mean you will get enough good notes and evidence on your classroom culture and how it encourages high expectations for all students.


What does it look like?

At the Lead Teacher level, teachers are expected to demonstrate exemplary practice and high expectations and lead colleagues to encourage students to pursue challenging goals in all aspects of their education.

While the Highly Accomplished level is about developing a class culture, a Lead Teacher needs to set a school culture. To do this, you’ll need to interact intentionally with students and teachers.

You’ll also need to be a step above the Highly Accomplished Teachers within your own classroom.

Another key aspect of this descriptor is that you’ll need to encourage your students to go beyond learning goals. You’ll need to encourage your students to set goals in all aspects of their education. This can include:

  • Attendance and engagement.
  • Relationships with peers and teachers.
  • Making use of opportunities such as vocational training and extra-curricular activities.
  • Goals for beyond school.

See more: Is Being a Student Wellbeing Leader Worth It?

What evidence can I collect?

Becoming a certified Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher, there is an extensive process. A key part of this process is having an assessor speak to referees from your school.

These referees will include your Principal and Line Manager, as well as anyone else you would like to nominate.

The easiest way to provide evidence for how you have influenced school culture is through these referees.

No documentation can provide solid evidence of school culture. It isn’t easy to do this through planning documents or training notes. Being observed in your classroom and your interactions with students help, but your referees will be the biggest part of your evidence set.

There are some other options for evidence, though. Letters or emails from parents praising you for your impact on the school community can go a long way. How your students speak also provides good evidence, which you can collect through interviews with students or community projects.

To learn more about the other descriptors in the third standard of the APST, use the following links:

Elise is an enthusiastic and passionate Australian teacher who is on a mission to inspire and support fellow educators. With over a decade of experience in the classroom, Elise leverages her expertise and creativity to provide valuable insights and resources through her blog. Whether you're looking for innovative lesson ideas, effective teaching strategies, or just a dose of inspiration, Elise has got you covered.

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