Helping Students Set Individual and Shared Goals

A story from Carla George-Prater

“It starts back when I was in high school and teaching swim lessons,” says Carla, explaining how she first realized she wanted to be a teacher. A man approached her for private lessons—he wanted to go into the U.S. Navy, but he couldn’t swim. After the two of them worked together, Carla’s student passed the test and got into the Navy. “I was like, Wow, I helped him do that. And that was fear, you know? He was petrified.” At that moment, she realized she had a passion for helping people.

Carla still helps students overcome their fears and learn new skills, though today she works in a classroom. She’s taught special education for more than 20 years, and has found that her students often fear failure. By encouraging them to set goals, Carla helps them work past their reluctance and toward success.

Though every student sets goals individually, they share at least one goal in common: to attend the parties she throws for well-behaved students, which have themes like “pizza party” and “laptop party.” The students need a certain number of Dojo points to attend, so they strive to exhibit positive behaviors, such as arriving on time, cleaning up after themselves, and staying on task.

The first time Carla threw a ClassDojo party last year, one of her 5th graders couldn’t attend because he’d been suspended. He didn’t want to miss another party, so the next time around, he worked especially hard for Dojo points.

“Two weeks before the party, he came up to me, and he goes, ‘Ms. Prater, I really want to come to this party. What do I have to do?’ And I said, ‘Well, let’s look.’ He said, ‘Well, can I get points if I do this and this and this?’ I said, ‘Yes you can.’”

His behavioral improvements have lasted well beyond the next party, which he attended. “He said that ClassDojo helped him create goals and meet those goals for himself, which is pretty powerful.”

Many of Carla’s other students have said the same. In fact, one of Carla’s other students has gone from receiving one or two behavior write-ups every day to receiving the same amount over the course of a week.

Carla’s emphasis on goal-setting coincides with her favorite aspect of her job—helping people accomplish things they might not have been able to do otherwise. “It’s constantly challenging me, and I’m constantly challenging myself. I’ve been teaching special ed. for 26 years and I still love it.”

Carla George-Prater, 5th Grade Teacher

Carla has taught special education for over 20 years, and currently lives in Renton, Washington.