OKRs: Objectives & Key Results: OK, Read

Originally published in Fueled By Coffee and Love: A Brew Perspective

At the Google Innovation Academy in Copenhagen, Denmark last year, I learned about an innovative goal-setting tool from Dan Stratford: objectives and key results or OKRs. Google employees use a process of setting OKRs to stretch themselves and reach to achieve goals in a creative, passionate way. Objectives are what you want to accomplish, and the key results are how you will measure your progress.   

Every teacher’s objective is to enjoy teaching while students have fun learning, and our “key result” is to have happy, engaged students. I’m no different; my objective and primary goals are always the same year after year: to create lifelong learners and personally enjoy teaching my class. I think I always realize this goal, but last year a shift began. I was quickly achieving this objective, and the results spread beyond my classroom.

In my research about OKRs, I found a lot of people use this process, even U2’s Bono. I loved how Bono put it, 

“So, you’re passionate. How passionate? What actions does your passion need you to do?  If the heart doesn’t find a perfect rhyme with the head then your passion means nothing. The OKR framework cultivates the madness, the chemistry contained inside it. It gives us an environment for risk—for trust—where failing is not a fireable offense; and when you have that sort of structure, the environment, and the right people, magic is around the corner.” 

So when we align the how, what, and why of what we are doing in our classrooms, the magic comes in.  

I serendipitously made an offer to the right colleague while leaving a district training, and what happened as a result turned into one of my best teaching experiences ever. I could have kept my head down at the end of our meeting, then zoomed over to the staff signout and escaped. Instead, I paused and shared an inspired thought with a colleague at a nearby Los Angeles elementary school, and what resulted wound up transforming my classroom. “We should connect our classes and do some things together using tech.” Her reply was a simple, “okay.” And we had a beginning.  

Diana and I both were about to start the year with our fourth graders, armed with our objective to get our kids to love learning and have fun doing it. We were willing to try to buddy-up our learners by infusing our mutual love for technology and inquiry. We talked about trying the following options: Hangouts, Facetime, Skype, Flipgrid, Padlet, and Google Classroom and see where it led. We were well-matched collaborators— ready to iterate and fail fast. We quickly learned that our district firewall blocked Hangouts, so we did a quick Facetime from our phones, just to let the students see each other and whet their appetites for what was to come.  

We both teach in the Los Angeles Unified School District about 8 miles apart. There’s not a vast distance or difference in our schools. We set up Flipgrid, an excellent website for sharing and posting videos that allow students to post introductions to each other, and they were hooked. We had definitely awakened something. They wanted to know what we were doing together next.  I didn’t anticipate the many things that would happen next. 

I was surprised my students began debating whether they wanted to have uniforms like Diana’s students had to wear. They were defending their arguments, and I wanted them to stop this organic debate–I mean, I had planned a similar activity for our opinion writing unit months from now. I had also planned friendly letter writing in my pacing plan, but now they were suggesting we write letters to them today and mail them. Were my students inspired to learn two different writing genres from one Flipgrid volley?   

I reached out to Diana, and she said her students were equally excited. Our students marveled at the fact that other kids in our district were learning the same things as them, and it was a great motivator. 

We loved the energy this tech connection lent to our classrooms. Once our collaboration started, the class was abuzz with our students’ anticipation; they wondered: ‘What were they thinking about this?’, ‘What were the similarities and differences in their thinking about this math problem?’, ‘Did they post?’ We tried to connect our classes weekly, varying topics and subject matter. We noticed that our more sluggish students began taking more care in the work they shared and were suddenly proofreading or asking our opinions about their work.  

Not only were we meeting our objectives, but we were getting our key results.  Students were motivated to understand what they were learning and become clear about their thinking, so they could interact with their new-found learning buddies. 

We loved the joy and finesse they would put into their explainer videos. Using Flipgrid’s simple video features, they became adept at making videos. For example, their video framing improved; students would employ a friend to hold the Chromebook and film, operating it as a Steadicam while they were on the move. Additionally, they used the pause button to snap their fingers and cut to a finished product, or they would use dry erase boards to create stop motion animation. 

Our student videographers were learning and growing together. In the weeks ahead, they would compliment the care, detail, and improvements they saw in one another. The evolution of their learning was as fun for them to watch as it was for their teachers.

Although students predominantly used Flipgrid, they also used Padlet for quick, sticky note type responses to a common question or theme. We found Blogger and a common Hyperdoc to be excellent vehicles for working on written comments and for plotting our journey through Ivan and Me by Katherine Applegate.  

Key results are measurable, and yes, both classes did do well on their standardized tests, giving us one quantifiable effect that is important to district administrators and a lot of parents. But the qualitative results, the ones that are most important to me, are too difficult to measure. How do we measure love for learning? I think we can tell we are successful by how we feel in the moments during our school days and in our time reflecting. I know we had the right people, we felt safe to fail and take risks, and we felt safe to express ourselves. 

It was a magical year, given this camaraderie and shared journey. We never managed to get our students together in real life, but still, our communities merged and grew stronger. We learned from each other and with each other. Most importantly though, we did so happily and with wild anticipation. Isn’t that what it’s all about?  

Kristin Welch

Kristin is an elementary teacher (LAUSD) and math coach (UCLA Math Project). She is a lover of sketchnotes, and she has a passion for learning, technology, art, and design, and she loves to find places where those things intersect. She recently completed the Google Innovation Academy in Denmark which combined all of her passions, and she learned her new favorite word when she was there: hygge. Hygge meaning ‘to give courage, comfort, joy’ or the state of being happy and cozy. She loves to be hygge with her family, friends, and pets.  To find Kristin or Kritty (her nickname) and she can be found on Twitter @hellokritty and on the web at hellokritty.com.

References:  

Doerr, J. E. (2018). Measure what matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation rock the world with OKRs

Hygge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hygge

OKRs / Bono: https://www.ted.com/talks/john_doerr_why_the_secret_to_success_is_setting_the_right_goals/transcript 

Some of our grids and the thinking it provided:

Kristin Welch (Kritty) and Diana Albanez, UCLA CGI Celebration January 2020

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