Desired outcome starts with understanding objective

I recently attended a teacher retreat at IUPUI where the focus was on motivating students. Our speaker, Todd Zakrajsek, a professor at the University of North Carolina, asked us to think about what we wanted to have happen on the first day of class. He instructed us to determine what our desired outcome was so we could then make appropriate plans. For example, if we want our students to feel a sense of community within the class, would the typical activity of reading the syllabus to them be the best way to achieve that feeling?

To help us further understand this concept, Zakrajsek asked us to imagine we were planning a family vacation. First, we needed to decide why we were going on vacation. Did we want to relax, have an adventure, or see something new? Then we could decide where we wanted to go and how we wanted to get there. If your goal is to relax, going to the beach might be a better option than driving across the country with three children. What you do depends on what you want to achieve or what your expectation is.

As a teacher I find this approach helpful. I can look at the course objectives to help me determine what outcome I want from my students. When planning classes it is easy to write down “Discuss chapter 3”, but why are we discussing chapter 3? I need to figure out what course objective my students need to learn from chapter 3 and then plan activities to help them demonstrate that learning. If I don’t know what I want my students to be able to do, then how can I know they have accomplished it?

We can also apply this to other areas in our lives. One of my nieces just got married and she can apply this to her marriage relationship. Each person has different ideas about how to do things and what is most important. Both spouses need to discuss their ideas to make their relationship run smoothly.

For example, when my parents got married they had to work out who took out the trash. In my mom’s family, her father took out the trash. In my dad’s family, his mother took out the trash. Both of my parents expected each other to take out the trash and they couldn’t understand why the trash was still sitting in the house until they discussed what their expectations were. In any relationship, we need to be clear about what our expectations are. No one can read your mind.

I’ve learned to be specific with my children. Telling them to clean the bathroom does not bring about the result I want unless I let them know what they must do to complete this task. I found that I needed to teach them how to clean the bathroom and then provide a list to remind them of what needed to be done. Just like in teaching, I had to figure out what the desired outcome was to then teach my children how to meet that outcome.

We can also use this approach when we are the ones meeting others’ outcomes. For example, I volunteered for several years leading book discussion groups for my children’s classes. I needed to know what was expected of me. How was I supposed to lead the discussion? When did I need to be there? What preparation was involved? Similarly, in work situations we need to know what our job expectations are so we can perform our jobs properly.

Whether we are setting the expectation or meeting it, we need to be clear about what the desired outcome is to prevent misunderstandings and to allow the outcome to be met. After all, how can we achieve a desired result if we don’t know what that result is supposed to be?

Susan Cox is one of The Republic’s community columnists, and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. She is a mother, an adjunct instructor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus and a substitute teacher for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. She can be reached at