Today was Halloween, and as I’ve blogged about before, this is not my favourite day of the year. As someone who appreciates routine and enjoys the quiet, I actually find this holiday to be rather stressful. While I know that the treats and costumes are enjoyable for many, I also know that the extra sugar, the different schedule, and sometimes even the stressors of the costumes themselves, can make the day a more challenging one.
It was a handful of students that really turned things around for me this year. Just after the first nutrition break, I was sitting out at my favourite spot in the hall — waiting for a small group of students to head to the music room — when I heard them coming out of the classroom. The children were walking in line behind the music teacher, and as usual, many of them stopped to wave and/or say “hello” to me. Today though, one child, after he said, “hello,” walked out of line, came back to me, bent down, and gave me a big hug. Three other children did the same. I totally didn’t expect this. As strange as it seems, and totally unbeknownst to them, I think that these hugs changed things for me.
As the day went on, the sugar took effect, the routine changes started to make an impact, and …
the children got louder,
the tears started,
the classroom cleanup took longer than usual,
the packing up seemed like an impossible task,
and staying still was a struggle,
I thought again about what the four children did, and somehow, everything seemed better. Sometimes it’s the smallest acts that have the biggest impact. Have you hugged someone today? This morning, I was reminded that both adults and children benefit from knowing somebody cares.
It was really a combination of experiences this week, with different students, that led to this blog post.
Things started with our Awards Assembly on Thursday afternoon. As we were about to enter the gym, one student was really struggling. This child was jumping up and down, making loud, screechy noises, and running around in circles. I knew that this student wasn’t ready for the assembly. I’m going to admit that I said something now that I wish I didn’t. I looked down at this child and quietly said, “You need to stop before you go into the gym. Are you choosing to go into the gym or back to the classroom?” The student looked at me, pointed back to the classroom and started to walk. What? Wait … I was not prepared for this response. I then said, “If you’re going back to the classroom, I’ll need to find somebody else to be there with you because I need to hand out the awards.” The child stopped. He turned and reluctantly walked into the gym. A few minutes after sitting down with his class, he walked up to me and said, “It’s too loud in here. If staying in the assembly means staying in this noise, I think I’d rather be in the principal’s office.” These are the words that changed things for me. I started to think about Stuart Shanker and invisible stressors. I started to realize that what I initially viewed as misbehaviour was actually stress behaviour. The loud gym was causing him to feel dysregulated, and he didn’t know what to do. My approach changed. I showed him how to plug his ears, and I put my hands over top of his hands to further block out the noise. He calmed down almost immediately, and only appeared stressed again when the music in the slideshow started to play. Maybe some noise-cancelling headphones would help for the next assembly.
At this same assembly, I interacted briefly with another student from a different class. This child appeared really calm during the entire assembly until the awards were handed out, and he didn’t receive one. He clenched his fists, started to scowl, and quickly appeared angry and agitated. I walked up to him, got down low, and said, “You seem mad. What’s up?” That’s when he told me he was angry about not winning an award. I told him, “I can understand why you’re mad, but before the end of the year, you’ll get an award too. I know that I don’t have an award for you, but I’m proud of you.” I then spoke about some of the recent changes I noticed, and he started to smile. He asked me to “pinkie swear” about the award, which I did, and then he started to smile and sat down calmly to watch the slideshow.
Flash forward to the next day. It was close to home time, and I wanted to empty out the sensory bin to prepare for Monday. I asked if anyone wanted to help me, and a group of students came over. This request resulted in the following story.
I’ll admit that when I saw the water running into that little metal bowl, I started to feel stressed. We plugged that hole for a reason. But when I heard this student’s thinking, I began to relax. This child was sure that he was helping us. He had the best of intentions. As the time ticked on, and a small puddle formed on the floor (which we cleaned up), I made a comment to my teaching partner, Paula: “Why exactly did I ask for help? I think that we could have done this quicker on our own.” That’s when she provided a very important reminder: “Maybe so, but think of how much problem solving these students are doing now.” It’s hard to argue with that. I think that Paula’s words helped me become more positive about the whole experience.
These experiences reminded me about the importance of “listening” … really listening. When we take the time to hear the “why” our perceptions change, and often for the better. While I’ve finished the Level 1 Self-Reg Foundations Certification and continue to work for The MEHRIT Centre as the Portal Plus Moderator, I’m reminded this week of just how complicated self-regulation can be, and that no matter how much we know — or think we know — we can all make mistakes. Maybe the important thing is that we stay open to listening, so that we can continue to make changes based on what we hear. How do you listen intently? With Halloween upon us on Monday, I’m thinking that I’m going to need to listen to all students and myself a little more closely. What about you?
For my two years teaching Full-Day Kindergarten, I’ve had the pleasure of working with two amazing partners: Paula and Nayer. Watching and listening to both of them, I’ve learned — and continue to learn — how to better connect with kids and support their growth. It really is about all of these little things that are actually not so little after all.
It’s in the arms wide open for the “good morning” (and “goodbye”) hug.
It’s in the soothing, calming voice when the tears sometimes come.
It’s in the extra minutes you take to listen to a child’s story.
It’s in finding out all about brothers, sisters, best friends, pets, parents, and grandparents, and then remembering everything you hear.
It’s in taking the time to sit down, eat, and converse with kids … small actions that show them how much they really matter.
It’s in appreciating when something that may seem small to you is big (and important) to the child, and then giving this “something” the attention it needs and deserves.
It’s in remembering who ate their lunch, who didn’t eat their lunch, who doesn’t want to eat their lunch, and who you really need to convince to eat their lunch … and how to do so effectively without causing stress.
Take the point above, replace “lunch” with “washroom,” and you have the next point.
It’s in appreciating all of the wonder of play, for play’s sake, and knowing how — at just the right time and in just the right way — to make those meaningful literacy and math connections.
It’s in knowing, and understanding, the power of the environment, and how changing the learning environment — from the structure and the activities to the colours, lights, and sounds — can truly change the learning for kids.
It’s in seeing the outdoor space as more than just a “recess area,” and appreciating the learning — from self-regulation to risk taking to academic skills — that can come from this environment.
It’s in understanding that the students always come first, and as much as we plan with our document in mind, the kids — and their needs — are really what matters most of all.
It’s in knowing, without a doubt, that children of all ages truly are “competent and capable of complex thought,”and when we see them this way, we start to recognize the power in letting go, observing, supporting when needed, and watching them shine.
In Ontario, Kindergarten teachers have the pleasure of working and learning with Early Childhood Educators … but they’re not the only ones that can learn from them. There’s value in seeing things from multiple perspectives, and the experiences, views, and knowledge that E.C.E.s bring to education, are beneficial for all parents and educators. What have you learned from an Early Childhood Educator? What impact has this had on you and your students? Today, and every day, I’m grateful for what Paula and Nayer have taught — and continue to teach — me.
Just before the school year started, I found out that there is Before and After School Care in our Kindergarten classrooms. This totally stressed me out! I like to come to school when it opens — always around 7:00 — and I rarely leave before 4:30. I love knowing that the room is set-up for the next day before I leave, and that the classroom I walk into in the morning will look the same as the one I left the night before. My teaching partner stays late after school, and it’s great to get a chance to plan with her … but now our set-up has to be put on hold each day. Would I be able to cope?
This morning, I realized that something that caused me anxiety a couple of months ago is something that I actually appreciate now. I never thought that I would say these words. I wonder now though if this all comes down to a need to reframe the problem. Let me explain. Even though the Before School Program is not in our classroom but the Kindergarten one next door, many parents and students come by early to say, “hello.”
I get to touch base with parents and answer any questions that they may have.
I often get some quiet moments with children: sometimes they’ll share exciting news from the night before, talk about how they’re feeling that day, or even check out some of our provocations for the day (and maybe even inspire something new). In a class with 33 Kindergarten students, even quieter moments tend to include an interruption or two, so this 1:1 time is that much more special.
I get to connect with the Before and After School Care facilitators. They have lots of great ideas to share, and sometimes even inspire classroom programming.
After school, my teaching partner and I are both in the classroom, and again, we get to connect with parents, students, and the program facilitators. We also get to see the different ways that children use classroom resources. With Kindergarten students from both classrooms in these programs, the interactions with different students, also often leads to different learning. Watching students during these learning times sometimes inspires my partner and I as we finalize plans for the next school day. This program also allows us to connect with students in the other Kindergarten class, which benefits us as we’re interacting with these students outside on the playground or in other combined activities. Relationships matter … and Before and After School Care helps with this!
I’ve come to realize that I can still head to my “office in the hall” before or after school if need be, and with a set-up plan, I still have plenty of time to get everything organized in the morning when I arrive at school. Not only can I cope with this problem, but maybe it’s not really a problem after all. How do you reframe challenging situations or experiences? What’s the value in doing so? I hope that we can all share our experiences, and maybe these stories will help all of us get a little more comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Last week, I was sitting out in the hallway one day during the first nutrition break — in my favourite spot between the water fountain and the front door— and I saw (and heard) a student running past me. I looked up and recognized him. I quietly called his name, and he stopped. I said to him, “You look angry. Would you like to sit with me in my quiet space?” He said, “Yes.” He slowly walked over to me, and he sat down beside me. For a little while, neither one of us said anything. I asked him if a few deep breaths might help, and he said that his “mom has him try this at home,” so we took some breaths together.
That’s when he started to talk. He told me about what happened and why he was angry. He even spoke a little bit about home, and his pets. I told him that I have two dogs, and pulled up some pictures of them on my iPad. He wanted to hear a few dog stories, so I shared them with him. He laughed a few times, and you could tell from both the tone of his voice and his body language, that he was calming down.
One of the dog photographs I shared. This one made him smile.
As we were talking, I was eating my snack: an apple. He mentioned that he had an apple in his lunch bag. I asked if he wanted to go back to the classroom and get it. I said that we could eat together in the hall or that I would stay with him in his room. He said that he would like if we went back to the room together … so we did.
When we got back, we had to work through a few problems together. He wanted to sit in a chair that he couldn’t, but we compromised, and moved a different chair to the space that he wanted. I helped him choose something from his lunch to eat. I even sat down for a few minutes, and the kids around the table spoke to me about their snacks and their day so far. For the time being, everyone was calm, and that was a wonderful thing!
A few days later, the teacher on duty that day spoke to me in the staffroom as I was heating up my lunch. He said to me that I have a really good connection with this child. I explained that we’ve done some problem solving together already this year and that seemed to help. I also said that this child’s spoken to me a bit about home and what he likes, so I can use this information to help him calm down. And it was as I uttered these sentences that I was reminded of something so important … Before anything else, children need to feel safe and loved.How do wehelp students feel this way? What value might this have on their school performance? I may use my “office in the hall” as a quiet place to regroup over the nutrition breaks, but on this day, I was glad that I could share it with a student that needed this environment even more than me.
As we head into a new week, I like to remember the importance of connecting with kids, and maybe helping that one child that needs this connection most of all. What might you do to reach out this week? May we all have that terrific feeling that comes from making a difference for kids!