WWDD? Part 2

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I've been graced with some gifts of temperament that have made the children in my care regard me differently.

I am a watcher. I observe twice as much as I talk. When I do talk, I try to frame my questions using language that is modeled on how I understand them to understand things. This means I have listened to their conversations and am using their language and interests to inject myself into their brains.

90% of teachers have no idea what is really going on in their classrooms. By this I mean the important "stuff". The relationships, the rules of play, the things you can say and the things you can't say.  All of this "stuff" is not produced by the adults - it is produced by the culture of children. Most teachers simply don't hear it.  They don't listen.

I do. It is the first thing I do. Listen. Watch. Sit down and wait.  Sitting down on the floor can be a revolutionary act. So many adults never get on the floor with children. To do so would be to give away their power, their status as the privileged knowledge havers.

Not me. I am on the floor as soon as I am in a classroom.  In fact, here is a tidbit from one of my research journals:

Overall, I think the children are less accustomed to adults being on the floor with them - so this is a new approach for them - Me being right next to them as they play - being interested in their play in this manner. Both teachers mostly sit in chairs, or otherwise lead the class standing up. I have not observed either of them on the floor at any point yet 


I plop down and wait. Eventually someone will wander over. They approach, they retreat. They wait to see what I will do? Will I discipline? Will I spring up and become an adult?

Children who are accustomed to the "Stand up and talk and be busy and tell me what to do and when to do it" adults are suspicious when one who doesn't fit their mold wanders into their classroom. They don't believe you. They actively distrust you.

If they encounter a teacher who does not control their every movement, they aren't sure what to do. They either freeze, or go a little wild.  Both motions need to be decoded and managed with the child. The frozen children need reassurance that it really is all right. I am not going to offer the freedom and then smack their hand.

The wild children need help understanding that I am really not there to oppress them. The consequences to their actions must be very clear and very consistent. They don't fear punishment, but punishment isn't the goal. Self regulation is the goal.  If you take the entire box of goldfish crackers, you won't be able to EAT the whole box of goldfish crackers...so take a scoop and I promise that there will be another scoop if you are hungry.

Both sorts of children need one thing above all : Truth. Children will follow you when they know you are being honest. Not cruel. Not sarcastic. Honest.

My years of teaching myself to be soul exposingly honest have their roots in my work with children. Children know an honest adult. They draw to us.  Sometimes I think they are shocked to find the diamond in the coal bed of adults.

A phrase I share with my students is this - (and it has worked for the majority of children I have used it with): "I know what you are doing, and it is not acceptable. This may work with other adults, but I am not one of them. You need to rethink your strategy."

One of my students this semester came back and said "Oh my god. It was like (Child's name) saw me for the first time."

Yep. No sickening "It hurts my feelings when you....."  or any of the other mealy mouthed versions of adult speak.  Bump that.  My message is direct. It doesn't threaten false punishment. It doesn't even blame the child. It states the issue. It clarifies and it ends.

I am also the proud purveyor of a Look.  The best teachers can silence a room with a look.  My students don't believe me....until I use it on them. I show how I can stop conversation by moving my body near behavior I don't want to happen. I don't need to yell. I just need to watch.

I have a nephew who - last year when he was being sassy to his mother and I walked up behind her and stood, looking at him said: "I want Auntie Dawn to stop looking at me." My response was "I heard your mother ask you to do something. You need to take care of that."

He took care of it.

Adults who yell without cause, who threaten at every turn, who show contempt for the children with whom they share a classroom?  They demonstrate that they are not trustworthy. They are not emotionally safe. And what do we know about how humans learn? They can only learn/thrive when they feel emotionally safe.

So does this mean that I have a silent working classroom in which no children have conflicts? Oh, let me wipe a tear of laughter from my eye.

My classrooms are loud. Busy. LOUD and busy. I am not fussed by movement or noise - even with my Undergrads. My tolerance for productive noise is high.  Conflict is loud and messy. I want people to feel their feelings and name those feelings. I will wrestle with children on a wrestling mat. I will allow bristle blocks to be wrapped in my hair while I sit in a salon dramatic play. I give children access to my body and my brain as a play partner.  Even now, when I am in a classroom for observation of a student teacher ...I end up playing with the children. I can't help it.

When I move into that space - as partner in play/knowledge my locus of power shifts. I am not the ALL-GIVER-OF KNOWLEDGE, ALL RULE MAKER. I am on par with the children, but with a Plus. They don't forget that I am an Adult.  I don't forget I am an adult. I am an Adult with Child privileges.  This means that they get some adult privileges.

That adult privilege is power.  I step away from points of power over which I do not need control, or in which control can be negotiated.

 Do I need to tell someone if they are hungry for snack? Do I need to control if someone needs to use the bathroom? Do I need to say if someone can have a drink of water?  These are small steps. You build a negotiated power and let it fly for a bit.  If needed, you renegotiate.

As adult, I may need to bring specific concerns or knowledge to the table - for instance, we can't be out on the playground at X time because another class is using it....but perhaps I can ask the other teacher if we can swap times? Adult models the way to problem solve and involves the children in the process.  I don't magically fix something, but rather expose the thinking behind the larger issue.  Cripes, sometimes the children come up with better solutions than I've considered.

I retain certain rights in my classroom. However, they are rights that I have earned. I don't stop play unless it is genuinely dangerous. I will allow some games to go to their logical conclusions that I can see coming a mile away. BUT, I know if I step in and stop it then an important lesson in a safe environment won't be learned.  Instead, I voice my concerns...and step back. I don't abandon. I don't condemn when everything goes to hell. I wait and then say.."Yeah, I was worried that might happen. What should we do now?"

I am a partner.

WWDD? Part Three to come

3 Baleful Regards:

Anonymous said...

Well drb, If we'd been able to inflitrate and take over the department here where I still languish in false hope of change, we would surely have revolutionized educational approaches to children, wouldn't we?
I wish you were my teacher...oh wait a minute, you are. :)

Rosemary Nickerson said...

You are a brave adult! Most of us want control and are afraid of loosing it. I like how you think and it seems to work for you. I'll try this out with my Grands. hmmmm....

paige (hayes) said...

I learned this as an early childhood educator and I have taken this stance with me into elementary school, then secondary teaching...and now I teach master's level education students and I take this position with them. Listen, appreciate, participate.

And always, always respect.

 
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