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  • Writer's pictureMax Melby

Goal-Directed Behavior and Building Community

There are a few ways to define “goal-directed behavior” and I think of it as person’s ability to organize their thoughts and actions towards completing a goal/task while avoiding or ignoring obstacles and distractions that would get in the way. This could be as broad as a life career goal or as specific as cleaning a bedroom. As any 2e parent or professional can attest, this requires some effort… well… lots of effort. I will not address the type of work that goes into developing goal-directed behavior in 2e students in this blog post, but rather I will take a look at what goal-directed behavior looks like for Arete as a school.

A big goal that we are always working on at Arete is building a school community that helps our students feel recognized, encouraged to grow, and to provide opportunities for our students to have a say in community norms and practices. There are small and consistent ways that students play a role at Arete, such as actively contributing to conversations around classroom expectations. This isn’t revolutionary, but it is important to name that this practice isn’t just for harmony in the classroom and/or to give teachers the upper hand in classroom management… this practice keeps us honest and dedicated to making progress toward building a school that helps 2e students feel recognized and encouraged. It provides a platform for self-awareness and self-advocacy skills to grow.

A New Building

Our students also play a role at the macro level of school design too, like how we designed our new school space. Arete had been planning a move for some time and once it was a real possibility, we got our students involved. Paint, furniture, carpet, lights, and more. We got ourselves moved in (what an exhausting process!), got settled in well enough for the school year to start, and now we’ve got students in the building so the community building can really start. There is no magic in warm lighting and comfortable chairs… but there is a little bit of magic in the interactions that can occur between a teacher and a student when the goal is to help everyone feel welcome and encouraged to grow. When they see themselves in the physical environment, they’re much more likely to feel comfortable contributing.

A New Tradition?

One way we’re trying to find a bit of magic this fall is to listen to a sort of silly idea that students came up with during the first week of school. One of our students often wears a hat… maybe it’s a fedora or maybe it’s an outback hat (I’m no haberdasher)… and this student’s classmates thought it would be a light-hearted show of support and fun to plan to wear hats on a Friday- all the students and all the teachers. And you know what? Just about everyone did and it was a good time. This led to more student conversations about what they could wear to match each other on the following Fridays. For this Friday’s enrichment, we’re welcoming a guest educator- an Invasive Species and Native Restoration Specialist to teach us about what they do and guide us in establishing our outdoor play space and gardens. Students thought it would be fun to dress as farmers this Friday since they’d be doing farm-adjacent work during enrichment. Farmer attire isn’t as easy as a hat, so I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone looks like on Friday… and all of the future Fridays where students will presumably keep coming up with new themes.

That’s all good gun, but dress-up days do run the risk of getting a little too silly and distracting. It’s a legitimate concern of ours that learning could be derailed by these group ideas… but this is just an example of the goal-directed behavior that we’re working on as a whole school community at Arete. Our students have indicated a desire to be silly with their peers… to establish group jokes and shared experiences each Friday… that’s the kind of stuff that friends do!

We measure the risk of distraction against the potential for a sense of belonging because it’s our goal to build a school where students are recognized as individuals and feel encouraged to grow. As the school year goes on, our challenge will be to keep an eye on how these Fridays help us make progress toward that aforementioned goal. Our students’ sense of belonging is so important, but we will need to make sure it’s not keeping students from learning.

When students organize themselves to plan a dress-up day with teacher support, is it an action towards our goal or is it a distraction?

The truth is usually somewhere in the middle... but I'm optimistic :)

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