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Thursday, January 10, 2013


A common theme in my journey as an educator these days is seeing power struggles between teachers and children. It is something I know close to my heart, as I have been there too. The child who “manipulates” us, who is “faking it” and is clearly a “brat”. Our response is to “ignore it”, don’t “give it any attention” and don’t “feed into the manipulative behaviour”. Lately however, I have been studying and following the RIE approach to caring for children which focuses on respect and relationships that are about connection. RIE tells us that all emotions a child displays need to be acknowledged. Hmm that’s interesting, so those behaviours I used to ignore need to be faced? We are touching on these themes in staff professional development sessions with ECE so,  I want to share something in an honest way, from educator to educator/parent.
Since the start of term, (four days) I have been noticing a struggle in my relationship with Angel (not real name). But it took me four days and a wake up call to see it as this – our relationship – as opposed to blaming her. 
She had been displaying defiant behaviour toward me, saying ‘No’ to simple requests and routine instructions. I felt my emotions rising. In my mind, Angel had a problem. She was spoiled, she “clearly wasn’t given boundaries at home”. She was behaving like a “baby”. I even went to the point of sharing my feelings with other staff, that Angelwas behaving in such an immature and defiant way these days!
Cue a quotation on fb this morning.

(Susan Stiffelman's fb page, shared by Janet Lansbury) “One of the first questions I ask a parent who calls for coaching because their child is defiant is how that child would describe the level of closeness and connection they feel with that parent. Human beings are wired to resist being bossed around outside of attachment. If your youngster is chronically saying "No", ignoring your requests, or pulling away, consider whether he feels that you LIKE him, or whether she knows how much you enjoy her company. Attachment trumps, or overrides that instinct to resist. Comments?”
My first thought was, “Oo some parents are NOT going to like hearing this…it is true, but woah, how is a parent going to react to being told they are behaving in a way their child may think they don’t like them?”
Then, Angel came to my mind…the defiance, the “NO!”. I immediately reflected on my feelings towards her. It is a little like the chicken and the egg here – or is it? Who knows If my feelings toward Angel were in response to her defiant behaviour, but I will be honest and say it may be very likely, that in a class with 22 other children, this young child’s emotional connection to me was lost to such an extent, she no longer felt liked by me.

I entered the class this morning excited that I had a plan. I had my hypothesis and immediately shared with my partner. She was visibly excited by my idea too. Yes! Maybe it is you Sarah! I began helping prepare some activities for the children, slowly children began arriving to change shoes outside. Four or five children had settled in to play then I heard a faint crying outside, getting closer. “Angel!” Despite the fact she rarely cries in the morning, knew immediately that it was her. She had every right to be crying. She was not happy here! My relationship with her must have deteriorated to such an extent that school just felt dreadful to her and she DID NOT WANT TO BE HERE.
I rushed outside, and thanked the staff who had escorted Angel from the gate. I then sat and asked Angel if I could hug her, she nodded, still crying, and I held her. I held her outside like this, softly stroking her back and hair, as she cried real tears saying, “mummy, mummy”. I just responded, “I know (I know you don’t want to be here because I have been so mean!), I know you love mummy. I am here for you now. I am here.” For about ten minutes, the soft sobbing continued. I told Angel, “When you are ready, we can change your shoes together.”

For the remainder of the morning I was very careful in my interactions with her. I caught myself talking over her, instead of crouching down to her level and making eye contact and adjusted my behaviour. I caught myself calling out to her instead of approaching her and gently touching her arm to get her attention and I adjusted this also. I offered her the choice of putting her bag and coat away independently or with help from me. The willingness with which she did things, the smile and obvious contentment on her face helped me realise a lot today.

I feel intent now to spend more time challenging myself. I will no longer fall back on the age old teacher saying that “We all have those children we don’t connect with”. I just need to spend a second reflecting on my own childhood and half a dozen, if not more, teachers faces come to my mind. I remember that feeling of trying for so long to get them to like me (make a connection). Clearly, they were unable to do that with me and the feelign of rejection was palpable. Defiance was most probably a result of this. My hope is that if I have those children who I am lacking a connection with, I will look inwards for a change, and reflect on what I am doing that may be pushing that child away and causing them to feel unloved by me.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A shift in how we approach tidy up

Tomorrow I will be sharing my class experiences with how we handle "clean up" in class. As part of ongoing training, the staff are asked to undertake research. THe task? A "no compulsory gathering time", week organised by leadership in our school. Prior to the commencement,  my partner and I reflected on "clean up" a lot. Clean up was closely tied to gathering times, as we found that without our usual transition gathering (children came together to sit on the mat prior to outdoor play time, lunch and home time), the class was not getting tidied up in time for the transition to the new space.

A certain reading from “Play is the Thing” about figure/ground relationships got me thinking. We decided to approach tidying from an entirely new angle. Comparisons in the table below.

Interestingly, the week prior to the discussion we had written in our planning and class goals that we wanted to “implement” some kind of roster for clean up. So clean up was on our list of things to work on. Everything happened in a very serendipitous, and timely manner.

Old Way
New Way
Play time was often very ‘messy’ and chaotic.
Play time is quieter and children seem more engaged. I believe this is due to the fact that the teachers are creatively providing provocations and invitations, not just at the start, and tidying is making the figure/ground relationships clear.
Teacher supervised clean up. Doled out praise or negative reinforcement (being honest here) to those supposedly doing or not doing the right thing. This is against both mine and Ivy’s belief in how we speak to children.
Teacher models not only clean up at the end, but models keeping materials tidy during play. Some materials are tidied without mentioning anything to children, others we ask if anyone would like to help.
An example of the less respectful language of the past, spoken loudly above a chaotic whole class cleaning up time:
“Who was playing with the circus toy? T , I think I remember you playing with it. It is your job to clean it up.”
T hides in the reading area as soon as I turn my back to supervise another mess and child.
“T, I am not happy about this, it’s your job blah blah blah!”
T heads to the bathroom to escape.  Clearly he was overwhelmed and was not given enough support to face the tidy of the toys.
An example of the more respectful language emerging now, spoken gently during play:
Teacher:  “Hey T, do you think you are done playing with the circus toys?” 
T : “Yes”
Teacher: “Would you like to tidy that up on your own or would you like some help from me?”
Approach to tidying: child is responsible for own mess, while we were supervisors of the classroom.
Approach to tidying: child is viewed as fully capable of learning to manage and be responsible, yet, we  are respecting their role as the player, and remembering our role as supporter of the play. Being busily immersed in play means they may not have time to think about tidying up! There will be a time and a place to help teach them about tidying, but not EVERY TIME.
A huge mess was left at the end of the session taking 20 minutes or more to tidy.
The class is “played in” yet tidy at the transition times, taking a few minutes to pack away a few things.
Teachers and children would find themselves becoming frustrated and resentful of the children who, during clean up time, wouldn’t clean up.
We understand how overwhelming a huge mess can be to anyone! We avoid the old scenario entirely.
By the end of the tidy up, we were all exhausted cranky.
Now we are NOT.
A gathering time was the only way to avoid chaos. Children who were overwhelmed and uninterested in the clean up began unpacking the materials and playthings we had just packed away. Gathering time brought children away from the classroom. It was crowd control.
No need to gather. Now our transitions are very smooth, we gently remind children that it is almost lunch time, they even can get involved in preparing tables wiping tables setting bowls and spoons, etc.
Everyone had to finish everything they were doing.
Some children are busy on projects.  If they wish they can continue working on things well into lunch time. Usually they are too hungry and when they see peers going to sit down to eat, will put their work away anyway.
Transition was very unnatural. Food was introduced, in an unnatural way on the mat with the whole class there.  
Movement to lunch is now very organic as children just observe Class helper preparing buffet so they begin to wash hands automatically. It is much more like at home. They talk about what food they can see/smell. We talk about the food in a more natural conversational way.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Stop Motion Animation Done At Long Last

Animation by the children of 4V
Cant wait to see it on the big screen!!
Keep in mind the children were part of this EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.