The Ambitious Target Tree is a TOC thinking tool to analyse and sequence the steps needed to achieve an ambitious goal or target, breaking the process into smaller, more manageable and logical steps.

The Ambitious Target Tree is a structured and systematic thinking tool that can be used to plan projects, address behaviour problems and analyse curriculum. An ambitious target is a positive and desirable objective that at first glance seems unreachable.

Althought this process is simple enough to be used with small children, it is equally effective in ensuring success for those who plan and manage school and system-wide projects. 

When students analyse curriculum content using the Ambitious Target Tree, they are also learning to think and communicate more effectively, learning curriculum content and a life skill at the same time.

Article by Linda TrapnellThe Tree enables teachers, students and anyone else to confidently work towards achieving personal or group goals. After the target or goal is clearly defined, individuals or group members identify obstacles to the target and then convert those obstacles into intermediate steps. This process is repeated until the final obstacle is overcome and the target achieved.  

  1. Define the ambitious target.
  2. Identify obstacles which block us from achieving the target.
  3. Identify intermediate objectives, ie. stepping stones, to overcome the obstacles raised.
  4. Arrange the intermediate objectives in the necessary step-by-step sequence to achieve the goal.
  5. Create and execute a plan to achieve the smaller intermediate objectives, one at a time, in logical sequence until the final obstacle is overcome and the target achieved.


Ambitious Target/Goal:


Intermediate Objective (I.O.)

How to achieve the objective - Plan












….More as necessary



Application to Student Behaviour and School-Wide Projects

  • Personal goal setting with students (behaviour and academic)
  • 'Contracts' with students and/or classes to improve conduct or to complete academic work
  • School improvement plans
  • School events

When applied to projects, the Ambitious Target Tree enables individuals and groups to think through the logical steps needed to ensure success.

Benefits of using the Ambitious Target Tree to improve behaviours and to plan school projects:

  • Ensures the target itself is clearly defined and understood
  • Provides more focused and deeper understanding of what is needed to ensure success
  • Improves clarity of communication 
  • Provides concrete, written plan that is logical and easy to follow
  • Evokes participation and commitment of all team members in group projects
  • Ensures genuine collaboration among team members
  • Eliminates non-essential actions that waste time
  • Fosters confidence and momentum needed to achieve a goal

 Curriculum Content Applications 

  • Analysis of narrative and informational text
  • Academic projects, group and individual
  • Development of communication skills (oral and written)
  • Lesson plans

Applied to curriculum content, the Ambitious Target Tree enables students to analyse events and procedures in a way that deepens their understanding and  ability to apply what they learn to their everyday lives.

When teachers use the Ambitious Target with students to develop a plan to achieve curriculum objectives (standards and benchmarks) students are able to verbalise not only what they need to learn but also their own responsibilities in the learning process.

Benefits of using the Ambitous Target Tree in curriculum content:

  • Deepens understanding of successes and failures in analysing events and procedures
  • Focuses thinking beyond a literal interpretation
  • Enables students to predict potential obstacles in text or projects and think through how to overcome them 
  • Enables students to logically sequence new knowledge
  • Enhances the ability to identify essential, yet less obvious, details in text or academic projects by thinking through the reasons for actions
  • Enables focused and meaningful classroom discussions
  • Enables students to logically plan a group or individual curriculum content project

With permission Kathy Suerken, International President TOC for Education