Let me start out by saying that I appreciate the attention to “best practices” that goes into the creation of the professional development (PD) sessions that consultants like myself deliver to teachers. The work of a consultant is challenging, time consuming, and sometimes grueling. To do what we do—and to do it well—is nothing short of exhausting. It’s why I am so grateful to work for a professional development team that goes out of its way to set its consultants up for success.

One seemingly small detail included in most, if not all, of the PD sessions I deliver, is a list of well-written, well-crafted learning goals and objectives. By “well-crafted” I mean that the writers of the training sessions have taken the time to include goals and objectives that focus on both knowledge AND skills to be acquired for the day. The marriage of knowledge and skills is paramount for learners. These written goals are such a gift to us as the trainers! That can’t be overstated.

The understanding of how knowledge and skills play out within a learning environment is not a completely intuitive idea for all teachers, though, and it is frequently lost on students. But as Bob Marzano tells us in the The Art and Science of Teaching (over and over and over again), when students are given clear communication from their teacher as to the knowledge they are being asked to absorb, the skills that they are being asked to demonstrate, and how the day’s lesson will help them acquire both, their ability to retain the information is raised significantly.

To put it simply: when students connect the task they are given to the greater objective, the knowledge is more likely to stick!

Therefore, it’s essential that our teachers learn to write quality lesson objectives. With that in mind, I’ve started working on a really simple philosophy:

Make your lesson breathable.
The idea is simple. Every well-crafted lesson should require that students take in new knowledge and then use that knowledge in a meaningful way. It is a simple inhale and exhale of information. And while this isn’t rocket science, it does take time for teachers and students to shift their thinking to this “in and out” mentality with every new piece of information.

Teachers should ask themselves three simple questions with every lesson:

  • What knowledge is this lesson asking students to breathe in? 
  • What skill is this lesson asking students to breathe out? 
  • Do my objectives clearly outline both for my students?

Seems simple, right? It can be. And the results have the potential of transforming how our teachers plan out their days.

I started using this “breathe in, breathe out” approach with my elementary students here in Oklahoma City, and I was amazed by how my students immediately took ownership of the day’s objective.

With the start of each new lesson, our entire class would physically inhale and hold our breath as I explained the knowledge we were going to take in for the day. And then, we would all exhale together as I explained the skill through which we would be demonstrating what we learned. This simple physical approach to reviewing the day’s objective made so much sense to their young minds. It soon became habit to ask two questions as a class:

What are we supposed to know? (inhale)
What are we supposed to do? (exhale)

I remember one particular afternoon when my kindergarten STEM class got away from me, and we simply ran out of time. I had spent the entire hour “front-loading” new information and never got around to having my students use the information in any meaningful way. The class ended and one of the quieter students came up to me and said, very casually, “I guess we’ll just hold our breath till tomorrow, Mr. Z.” Wow! He totally got it! There was a clear expectation that when we learned something new in Mr. Z’s class, we were going to be expected to do something with that information.

That is powerful stuff! I had one small piece of evidence that my students were taking ownership of their learning.

And while this story is simply one isolated incident, I have seen this analogy play out with positive results as I use it to communicate the power and importance of well-written objectives during my training sessions. Remember, our goal as educators is not to JUST be givers of information. Our grander purpose is to help learners develop the ability to process information and use it in a meaningful way. THAT is what true learning is all about.

So the next time you are trying to stress to your teachers the power and importance of well-written objectives, just remind them to breathe and it will all work out.