The Love Language of Assessment: S.M.A.R.T. Goals

The Love Language of Assessment: S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Love is in the Air

February… the season of love. Although officially celebrated on the 14th, the entire month is typically dedicated to stuffed animals, bouquets of flowers, chocolate covered delicacies, and romantic gestures all in an attempt to fulfill one particular outcome; ensuring that special someone feels treasured, adored or appreciated.  No matter our status, “single”, “married”, or “it’s complicated,” when love is in the air, we cannot get away from breathing in its fragrance.  However, just because the winds of love surround us does not mean we all respond to love similarly.  Depending on past experiences our approach to embracing “love” can be tricky..  The article, What Are the 5 Love Languages? indicates that we express love in at least one of five ways: (1) words of affirmation, (2) gift giving, (3) acts of service, (4) physical touch and (5) spending quality time. Hence, understanding one’s love language is key managing the ebbs and flows of love.  With this in mind, let’s continue to unpack the theme of “Falling in Love with Academic Assessment.”

Assessment, like love, can invoke various emotions depending on our experiences/interactions during the different phases (e.g. planning, collecting/analyzing data, reporting outcomes, identifying continuous improvement actions) of the process.  Whether we are faculty, staff, or administrators, there is no escaping the fragrance of assessment when it is in the air, and just like love, navigating the process can be tricky. It’s important for us to understand the love language of assessment through the establishment of S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals.  Speaking the love language of assessment by utilizing S.M.A.R.T. goals enables faculty, staff and administrators to establish clear direction, motivation, and focus while engaging in the assessment process.


Say What You Mean

The childhood game of, “They love me, they love me not,” no longer works in today’s society.  Let’s be honest: when it comes to matters of the heart, nobody likes ambiguity, innuendo, or obscurity.  For those whose love language centers around words of affirmation, clarity is a must. You can’t imply, “I love you,” or beat around the bush with a complimentary statement; you need to be direct..  If necessary, enlist cupid to assist with finding complimentary, affirming, praiseworthy words so you get as close as possible to the bullseye (the heart) of your intended target. 

Similarly, the first letter in the love language of assessment emphasizes the need to set specific (well-defined, explicit, detailed, clear) goals.  If goals aren’t specific, your focus and motivation for achieving the expected outcomes may become scattered.  Only when we set specific goals do we have a better chance of achieving them. You can begin formulating specific goals by asking the five W’s:

  1. Who is involved in this goal (i.e. students, faculty, alumni, industry/business partners)?
  2. What is it that I want to accomplish (i.e. improve persistence/retention/completion, increase engagement)?
  3. Where is the goal to be achieved (i.e. as part of course, at an event/activity, within a project)?
  4. When do I want to achieve this goal (i.e. fall/spring/summer term, academic year, during a course; as part of an assignment/activity)?
  5. Why do I want to achieve this goal (i.e. outreach, improve student learning, increase community involvement)?


Answering the five W’s from a position of honest reflection will help you to identify specific goals.  Doing so is the first step towards hitting your assessment target.

It’s the Thought That Counts

Gift giving is the visual symbol (and the plumb line) of affection for those with this love language. No matter how large or small, presenting a token of love and appreciation in the form of a gift is all it takes for success. For some, this measure of thoughtfulness is equally as important, if not more, as the other four love languages. With this in mind, the person who curates an awesome gift wins the heart. The key word here is thoughtfulness. It is critical that the one who is making an attempt to display their love gives careful “thought” about their intended recipient, because to someone who has the language of gifts, “it’s the thought that counts, not the gift itself.”.

With that said, measurement, as the second letter in the love language of assessment, does “count.”  As a vehicle for tracking progress, measurement, like gift giving, elicits an emotional response. Therefore, neglecting to establish measurable goals (and corresponding targets) can cause a shift in focus and/or rob you of the excitement generated by meeting important milestones and achieving expected outcomes.  To make an assessment goal measurable, three simple yet thoughtful questions should be considered:   

  1. How many/much (i.e. increase or decrease)?
  2. How will I know if I have reached my goal (i.e. anticipated target, standard level of achievement)?
  3. What is my indicator of progress (i.e. % complete, milestone, deadline)?

The Grand Gesture

Displaying love through acts of service is unique.  It is similar to the language of gift giving, where emotional value isn’t placed on size or quantity, but the difference lies in the fact that the gift isn’t an actual object, the “gift” is performing a thoughtful act.  Conveying affection in the form of a grand gesture is not always easy when it comes to expressions of love.  If one is going for the big cheesy grin, a million smooches, hearts-a-flutter, or simply an “aww,”  careful planning, attention to detail, and resources/resource management are required.

Similar to love’s grand gesture requiring careful attention to detail, the third letter in the love language of assessment requires goals to be achievable/attainable. It’s important that faculty and staff figure out the ways to realize their assessment goals and work towards them. Goals must be challenging, yet defined enough to be met. To do so, the following questions should be asked:

  1. Are there resources and capabilities available to achieve the goal?  If not, what am I missing?
  2. Have others accomplished it (or something similar) before and been successful? If not, why not? If so, is what I’m doing still meaningful and adding value to our work?

Happily, Ever After

When it comes to love, physical touch (i.e. sexual intimacy, a gentle touch, hug/embrace, holding of hands) is quite powerful. Public and private displays of affection are appreciated at various stages within relationships.  Thus, the notion of living “happily ever after…” requires a high level of open communication, information gathering (asking questions), and taking a realistic, eyes-wide-open approach to satisfying your partner’s physical needs.

Likewise, the fourth letter of the assessment love language requires goals to be realistic, with consideration being given to adequate resources and time.  Assessment work and the outcomes produced is important for institutional stakeholders. With this in mind, it is important to be strategic when establishing assessment goals by considering the following:

  1. Is the goal within reach?
  2. Is this the right time?
  3. Do we have the right resources?
  4. Is there a commitment to achieving the goal?


Quality versus quantity- this is the mantra of those whose love language is focused on quality time.  This emphasis is not about counting minutes, hours, days in proximity to the other, but the time spent focusing on each other through conversation, active listening, paying attention to details, and/or taking a particular interest in the other.   

Timeliness, the anchor letter of the assessment love language is also about quality.  In order to ensure that assessment is done with the quality necessary to make informed decisions and/or changes for the purposes of continuous improvement, setting time-bound goals is vital.  In the absence of established start and end dates or periods for data collections, maintaining momentum can become a challenge. Setting milestones and deadlines as part of the assessment process means asking:

  1. How long might it take to collect critical information?
  2. How long will it take to analyze and interpret the data?
  3. When does the goal have to be achieved?
  4. How long (and when) will sharing and taking action take place?

For the Love of S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Love and its associated emotions can make us nervous, cause angst, and give us jitters. Nevertheless, when love is in the air, we somehow find a way to fall in… resulting in exploring the love languages each relationship unveils.  It’s the same with assessment.  Simply take the next step to utilize S.M.A.R.T. goals and learn the love language of assessment.  You may be surprised where the process takes you!   

What are some creative ways you can encourage faculty and staff to speak the love language of assessment?  How might you introduce S.M.A.R.T goals into your planning process?



Nanette Smith, Rhodes State College

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