Setting Professional Goals in Early Childhood Education

Teaching goals are slightly different from the usual ‘drink more water/walk more’ type of goals. Nowadays, there is a lot of advice about goal setting for early childhood professionals. Professional development goals for early childhood educators are deep, mindful, and have the potential to impact others around you as well as yourself.

motivation spelt in cut out letters - a key factor in setting professional goals

So, what would you choose as a professional goal? And more to the point, what is the point?

Firstly, I want to clarify that the important goal I’m talking about is not your appraisal goal. You can certainly use the ideas generated by your appraisal to develop your goal. BUT, the goal I’m talking about here is one you set for yourself, by yourself. These are goals set without the influence of someone else who wants you to work on particular teaching skills for your professional development. In other words, you alone decide it. It is your choice, it’s your idea, and it’s about your professional development goals as a teacher.

Appraisal goals, in contrast, are usually joint goals. They are set together with someone else, usually with the input of other educators – your centre team leader or your mentor. This presents a potential power imbalance, where it is a challenge to say no to their idea for your goal. At times the goals set at appraisal can link to a deficit in your teaching that the team leader has identified, and might, in all honesty, be something that is of no interest to you.

And secondly, what’s the point? Well, personal growth is a… well, personal thing. As educators, we belong to a profession that believes in the idea of lifelong learners. Self-reflection and professional goals help us achieve that. Not all learning needs to be a training course or a paper at an education provider. It can be you working on yourself.

Practice & Success equal Motivation - a formula for setting professional goals

Examples of Teaching Goals

A professional goal is about YOUR development, what you want to do, what skills you want to improve. Some examples of goals for early childhood educators are:

  • Increase use of Māori phrases
  • Explore what schemas mean to children’s learning
  • Read the new Te Whāriki
  • Be completely present in your teaching moments
  • Create spaces for children to test their working theories rather than stepping in with the solution
  • Add more science
  • Focus on sustainability, to name a few.

Quote on Ability, Motivation & Attitude by Lou Holtz

6 tips on how to achieve your goals

So, here are a few tips on how teachers can set professional goals in early childhood education:

  1. Visualise it

    Develop an understanding of exactly what it is you want, and visualise it in your brain. Put up an image of it somewhere you can see it. The ability to see what you want to achieve is surprisingly effective. Do you want to have more science-based activities or conversations with the children? A picture of young children working on a science activity would be ideal. So would a science-related picture, just something to jolt you into focusing on your goal.

  2. Don’t act alone

    Firstly, I think it’s important to tell your team leader and peers what you are doing. That way, you can maintain healthy relationships and avoid confusion. It’s also good manners, in my opinion. You may even find that other educators are also keen to get involved and further develop their skills. Their support could be an advantage.

  3. Break your goals down

    Engaging kindergarten children with ideas about sustainability could seem a bit overwhelming on a daily basis, but one activity a week could be more manageable.

  4. Track your progress

    Make a chart, tick it off, and display your ‘results’ to the other educators and parents. Be a bit of a show-off (but not too much as that’s just boring). Take photos, write a Storypark story, add them to your educator portfolio or make a display sharing the activities or success of your efforts. It’s cool to see your language skills develop, and showing your progress to others can often have a positive effect that makes others give it a go too.

  5. Seek help and support when you need it

    Research new ideas, look through Pinterest, organise a coffee date with someone with an understanding of your topic, or team up with another teacher. Support each other! Is there a parent with some knowledge or expertise that you can approach? Maybe your goal is related, or the same, or completely different.

  6. Celebrate your achievements

    Stop and smell the roses, tell a friend about the challenges you have overcome and goals you have achieved. Give yourself a non-food treat – for example, buy a book and more training resources that could help your professional practice or a plant for your garden. A woman I knew set up a wee garden space for herself and purchased a plant every time she got a promotion, met a goal, or did something she was proud of. 

To wrap it all up, when thinking about professional goals in early childhood education, remember there will be setbacks. You won’t always be successful. But be kind to yourself, know when to take a break, stop procrastinating and get on with your professional development goals!  The challenge is maintaining an interest! 

Setting goals, generating new ideas, & staying positive - three factors influencing motivation

Kath CooperKath Cooper works for  Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand. She is passionate about all things early childhood and issues of sustainability. Her recent research was on the visibility of gay early childhood teachers. She lives with her wife in Wellington and has four lovely children and three amazing grandchildren.

Posted by Sonya McIntyre

Sonya was born in Lower Hutt and went to Rata Street Kindergarten and Petone Kindergarten. A qualified ECE, she studied at Victoria University in Wellington and has worked with home-based educators, in community-based childcare and in kindergarten. With childhood memories of reading books and writing stories, combined with her passion for all things social media, Sonya segued into her role with us at Storypark as social media manager.

Try Storypark for free and improve family engagement with children’s learning


  1. […] can engage easily with centre and individual enquiry or goals and effortlessly link evidence to their portfolio for reflection on professional growth. […]


  2. […] of teaching practice. Learning stories can be duplicated as a portfolio story and retagged to professional goals and/or teacher registration requirements. Your supervisor, advisor or mentor can be given access to […]


  3. […] plan, aligns perfectly with the NQS and therefore allows us to think of our own personal and professional goals in a format that can be easily linked to our QIP as […]


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *