Foundations for Excellence

What Is a Program Goal?

Nuts and Bolts IconYou have probably heard the expression “keep your eyes on the prize.” The program goals are “the prize”—broad statements that describe what a program intends to accomplish. Each Head Start program’s long-term goals provide a framework for the program’s mission, including priorities related to education, nutrition, health, and parent and family engagement program services. Program goals are strategic and long-term. They may also support comprehensive approaches that encourage system-wide cultural and linguistic responsiveness. In addition, they include school readiness goals, a distinct set of goals focused specifically on child development and early learning outcomes in each of the five central developmental domains.

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School readiness goals, as defined by the HSPPS in 45 CFR § 1305, are the expectations of children’s status and progress across domains of language and literacy development, cognition and general knowledge, approaches to learning, physical well-being and motor development, and social and emotional development that will improve their readiness for kindergarten. School readiness goals are a type of program goal.

Keep in mind the acronym “BROAD” as you write your goals: Bold, Responsive, Organization-wide, Aspirational, and Dynamic. These goals give voice to the shared vision within your program and help everyone (e.g., staff, governing body/Tribal Council and Policy Council members) focus on priorities. In Head Start, programs review their goals based on findings from the community assessment, annual self-assessment, and related child, family, and community data.


Tips for Setting BROAD Goals

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  • Think big; really big. Dare yourself to reach for the stars as you set goals.
  • Imagine! Where would you like your program to be at the end of five years? What do you expect to accomplish? What will your program’s legacy be to the children, families, and communities you serve?
  • Go beyond compliance. Think about both innovation and compliance as you set your goals. What exciting community-driven initiatives would you like your program to accomplish over the next five years?
  • Continuously improve. Generate goals that will help your program not only meet the HSPPS but strengthen, strive, and innovate for more effective services for children and families.

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  • Look to the future. BROAD goals aren’t accomplished overnight. Most are written to be accomplished during the five-year project period. In most cases, goals stay the same so you can measure progress and impact over the five-year project period. BROAD goals tend to be more long-term. Program objectives and related strategies are likely to change from year to year.
  • Use data to determine your goals. Goals should not be a rewritten regulation or standard. They are developed based on data and the critical needs that emerge for children, families, and the community. Use the community assessment, results from your annual self-assessment process, and other program-specific data sources to develop, prioritize, and refine the program goals. You may have other program-specific data sources that also provide critical insight.
  • Include families. Look for opportunities to listen, learn, and collect data from parents and family members. Focus groups and surveys are important ways to obtain feedback from families, but be sure to explore different ways to connect that are meaningful for diverse populations. The family partnership agreement process is an important source of data about families’ needs, interests, and priorities.
  • Engage program leadership. The HSPPS require that you establish program goals “in collaboration with the governing body/Tribal Council and Policy Council.” Provide decision-makers with the data they need to meaningfully participate in this process.
  • Explore. Exploring related research could help as you develop program goals. Take advantage of the multitude of resources on Head Start’s website, the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC), as well as MyPeers forums.

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  • Consider how program and school readiness goals work together. Aligned goals are likely to produce more effective results. Also, as you develop your organizational goals, take into account both the demographic changes in your community as well as how diverse populations are changing.
  • Involve all levels of the organization. Program goals require commitment from many stakeholders including governing body/Tribal Council and Policy Council members and families. The goal of improving attendance is an example of an organization-wide goal. Everyone from bus drivers and teachers to center directors, Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, and Attendance (ERSEA) staff, family service and health staff, and, most importantly, families themselves, can have an important role to play in helping a program reduce absenteeism.

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  • Motivate by engaging emotions. Change is more likely to happen when goals speak to the heart as well as the head.
  • Write with intention. One of the keys to successful goal-setting is to motivate and inspire. Consider starting your program goal statement with inclusive words, such as, "In our Head Start program, we will…"

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  • Dynamic is defined as "energetic or forceful." In the video Goals — Four Disciplines of Execution, Stephen Covey invites us to consider the energy and creativity that are unleashed when everyone in the organization is committed and involved in achieving shared goals.2

Beware if your goals are too:

Vague “The program will continue to learn.”
Narrow “All managers will get their master’s degree.”
Broad “All families will become self-sufficient.”
Generic They simply restate regulations.
Many Programs can’t track progress.


Question Mark IconHow do you engage stakeholders in establishing BROAD goals?

2. FranklinCovey. Goals–4 disciplines of execution, YouTube, 2 March 2012.