Right now, Paula and I have a Early Childhood Education student from Mohawk College joining our classroom three days a week until the end of May. We love to welcome Early Childhood Education students and teacher candidates into our classroom, for as we work with them, we find that we reflect more on our practices and why we make the choices that we do. A recent conversation together after school inspired this post.
Paula and I have worked with children for over 20 years each and over six years together. Like all educators, we’ve figured out different ways to communicate with kids. When I started teaching, I used to think that I had to talk a lot to explain to kids why I felt a certain way or why I made a choice that I did. When problems arose, there was always more talking. Over the years though, and even more when working with Paula, I’ve learned the value of “less is more.” Kids and adults stop hearing — or maybe just stop listening — at a certain point. I think it’s our natural inclination. But a lot can still be communicated valuably without saying too much at all.
Find your “wow!” I wish that I could find the video that I recorded of a child explaining to us Paula’s different wow’s. 🙂 She says, “wow,” a lot. Sometimes the wow is based on an amazing piece of work or an incredible thing that a child’s done. Sometimes the wow is in response to a problem. It’s kind of like asking, “Why are you doing that?!” Try it though. With a different tone, the same word can communicate very different feelings. Often times, just the one word will stop a behaviour or change a response. Your word doesn’t need to be, “wow,” but maybe finding your word has value. (I will admit to adopting, “wow,” over the years.)
Practice your look. Even with a mask on, a lot can be communicated through your eyes. I think that the past couple of years have helped us improve our “eye language.” From across the room though, the right look might encourage the continuation of a choice or the start of a different one. We’ve found recently, that our looks are often accompanied by “finger talk.” A point to another area or a few thumbs up can tell a lot to a child who’s looking our way. Sometimes we can say the most without saying anything at all.
Bring down the volume. Everyone has a different noise tolerance. While we both like a “hum of noise” in the classroom, we find that too much noise can quickly become dysregulating. Sometimes there’s a need to bring the volume down. There are different ways to do this. Occasionally, entering play and providing a new idea or handing over some labels (for writing) can change the volume. Maybe encouraging some different student groupings can also vary the volume. Usually though, I try first to see what happens with a quiet voice. My step-dad, who’s also a teacher, taught me this approach back in my first year of teaching. He said that the inclination is often to talk over kids, but if you purposely get quieter, students will do the same. They follow the model that they hear. And so, as the volume goes up in the classroom, I try to go around slowly to groups and check in with them. I’ll try hard to whisper an observation or a question to them. As challenging as it is, sometimes by engaging in a quiet conversation with each group, the volume goes down everywhere.
In the Faculty of Education, there’s a lot of talk about “classroom management.” The different ways we communicate is a key component of this, I think. What are your wow’s? What other ideas would you add to this conversation around communication? Nothing in a classroom happens by accident, and to truly get the “hum” that we love, I think it takes reflecting on the choices we make as part of this process. Maybe hearing about other people’s choices will give all of us new ideas to try.