It’s January, the ground has a fresh coat of sparkling snow, the blue jays are once again fighting over the bird seed, and our students are back at school. It’s a fresh start, and with any new start, I like to work with the idea of setting goals. The purpose of a goal is to act as an incentive to improve on something? How do we set realistic goals with our students, as teachers and educational therapists?

goalsI like to start each term with one goal. Working with students who struggle in so many areas, I find that we need to keep it simple. In order to achieve success, we usually decide on one goal. I will often ask my student what goal he/she would like suggest. I have received a variety of different answers. “Get A’s on my report cart.” “Play soccer more often at recess.” “Do my best”. We’ll talk about these, and then narrow it down to something specific, like “improve in my writing so that my report card will improve a bit”. Recently I’ve had a most unusual answer. Jeff, a ten year old boy said “my goal is to chop lots of wood before winter.” I looked at him, and thought to myself that he missed the point. But he was very serious, so I responded with “That’s a great goal. We have a wood stove too, and it’s important to have lots of wood. But I was thinking of something related to our learning here, like maybe improving in reading.” He was quick to answer, “No, I’m more of an active kind of guy. That’s not my goal.”

I didn’t know where to go from there, as we should not impose our goal on the student. It made me reflect on goal-setting in a different light. We don’t know the world that our students live in. It seems that Jeff, who struggles so much in reading and writing, gets great satisfaction out of getting wood ready for the winter. There’s a sense of accomplishment, just like I feel when I pull weeds from the little carrots shoots. I decided I needed a more tangible goal such as: “Let’s see if we can read one page every day, either at home or at school, and make a chart of our progress. We could make blocks of wood on our chart, and when all the blocks are filled in, we can celebrate by going for a hike in the woods as part of our session.” Jeff grins and responds with “That would be awesome. And I get to ask you a buzzer word too that day!” An agreement was made.

We often wonder what goes on in the minds of our children, especially those with learning challenges. In order to help them set goals, we need to “walk in their shoes” as teachers, educational assistants or educational therapists. We need to break down their tasks into manageable pieces, so school doesn’t become overwhelming. These students especially need to experience successes, no matter how small they might be. I found out that Jeff didn’t like hot chocolate, so that wouldn’t be a reward, but his love for nature made me think of going for a hike. We have to be encouragers, pushing our students along at a reasonable pace, understanding where they come from, and helping them see their successes!