My Classroom Community

I met a woman yesterday who really resonated with me.  Her name is Billie Jo, and she is running our preschool staff development this year.  We will be learning about positive behavior support and social-emotional development.  I’m excited first of all because it’s a topic that will actually give me ideas I can use in my classroom.  Last year the preschool staff development was all about NAEYC accreditation, and it was more frustrating and time-wasting than helpful.  The second reason I’m excited is that Billie Jo’s presentation yesterday showed me exactly what I want my preschool classroom to be like!  I am thrilled that I’m not the only person with this vision, and I’m excited to learn more about how I can get there.

A long, long time ago I read a book called Conscious Discipline by Becky Bailey.  From reading that book, I had the idea that I want my classroom to be a community, where we follow certain standards of behavior not because “it’s the rule,” but because it’s what is best for the people in our community.  Shortly after, I read some books by E. Perry Good, of which I can’t remember all the titles because I had borrowed them.  One that I found is still on my bookshelf…(Sorry, Betty!)…is called Helping Kids Help Themselves.  What I learned from these books is that what I want is not for kids to do what I want them to, but for kids to move towards responsibility and independence, and the way to do that is to help them learn for themselves how to get what they want and need in an acceptable manner.

So my vision for my classroom is this:  I don’t want to have judgement, punishment, a list of rules created by me that the kids have to follow just because I’m a grown-up, a balance that weighs how many stickers or treasure box toys the kids get by how many rules they follow.  I want a community of people who work together.  I don’t want to punish a kid for doing something wrong, I want to help him learn how to find good ways to get what he needs.  We’ve heard it a million times, when kids misbehave, they’re crying out for help.  It makes more sense to me to say that when a kid misbehaves, he’s using the best, possibly the only strategy he knows to try to get something he needs.  But we still have this idea beaten into our heads that the solution is to address the behavior, not the need that caused it in the first place.  We feel like we must deliver a deserved consequence instead of helping the kid figure out a better strategy to meet his needs.

Billie Jo is with me!  She gets it!  And she knows a lot more than I do about it, and I can’t wait to learn more!  She used an example yesterday of ignoring misbehavior without ignoring the child.  She drafted Inez and Barb, who were sitting at a table together near the front of the conference room.  She said, and I’m paraphrasing of course, let’s pretend Inez and Barb were playing with a deck of cards, and Inez got mad at Barb and threw the cards on the floor.  Billie Jo, who was the teacher in this scenario, goes over to the table and addresses Inez, who threw the cards.  “Hi, Inez.  What kind of coffee are you drinking today?  Oh, do you like hazelnut?  I like hazelnut, too.  What would you like to do now?  Do you see those baby dolls over there?  Would you like to play with them?”  Inez pretends to go play with the baby dolls.  Billie Jo then addresses Barb.  “Hi, Barb.  Let’s sort these cards into color.  Can we do it together?”  Her point was, is there any good reason Inez must be punished for her behavior?  Is there any good reason Inez must be the one who picks up the cards?  Inez didn’t throw those cards because she wanted to learn how to pick up cards, she threw the cards because she had a bad morning and needed some lovin’ from the teacher!  🙂  In the future, of course, you would help Inez learn to let the teacher know what she needs without throwing things, but you don’t really need to punish the one strategy the kid has.

She pointed out, also, that kids tend to have a much deeper sense of fairness than we do.  We think fair means everyone gets equal attention, equal stuff, etc.  Kids intuitively think fair means every individual person gets what they need.  We end up teaching them that everyone should get the same thing!  Yikes!  And what happens when you get to be an adult?  You usually have to get it yourself, of course, but you get what you need, not necessarily exactly what your friend gets.  We’re teaching the seeds of jealousy and envy!  Help me, Billie Jo!  🙂

Actually, the biggest concern I have is whether my para will be willing to give these things a try.  She is definitely from the old school of thought that rules must be established, and rule-breaking must be punished.  She truly believes that unpleasant consequences will teach the kid not to do the thing.  It hasn’t worked in the last three years, and she’s been working in the school district a lot longer than that, I wonder if it has ever worked for her.  I definitely need more information and strategies, but little bits and pieces of this new theory have worked for me over the last three years.  Two huge things with kids, as I’m sure you know, are fighting over toys and tattling.  My first year, I set my sights on tattling, which was one of the things addressed in Conscious Discipline.  One type of tattling is for intrusive behavior.  When a kid tattled about somebody else doing something to them, my immediate response is, “Do you like it?”  Of course the kid says no.  “Then go tell her, I don’t like it when you hit me, that hurts!”  And I follow kid 1 over to kid 2, and help kid 1 say it if he needs.  I then take a guess at kid 2’s motives, help her practice a better way to get what she needs, for example, “Can I have that toy?” instead of hitting or grabbing.  When we’ve practiced a good interaction, which may or may not result in kid 2 getting the toy, depending on the situation, I immediately turn my attention to kid 1 and sympathy for any injury, so that kid 2 sees me modeling concern for another member of our community.  Pretty soon, I only need to tell kid 1 “Did you like it?” and he takes care of the rest.  By the end of the year, a lot of the time, kid 1 doesn’t even need to tattle, he’s figured out how to handle intrusive behavior in a successful way.  There’s no need to punish tattling, because we’ve taught the kid how to get his needs met.  As a side benefit, we’ve worked toward teaching the other kid how to get her needs met, in a less hurtfull way.  So there’s no need to punish her hitting, either.  Another thing that happened is that by the end of the year, we saw barely any fights over toys, because the kids were learning these better ways to ask for what they want.

Wow, and that was just the cliff notes!  If I wrote out every word that’s spoken in one of those interactions, it would be four times as long!  And I’ve got a bunch of similar strategies for other situations, I think I just need to keep reminding myself that I want responsible, independent people who can make decisions, not rule-following, compliant little robots. 

In fact, something just occurred to me.  In the mornings while the kids are arriving, I have to stand by the door because it is locked, and let parents in when they arrive.  The kids start arriving at 8:30, and all the kids are supposed to be at school by 8:45.  When the kids come in, they are supposed to put away their backpacks and coats, and sit on the floor and read books.  The problem arises at 8:35, when my para leaves with the kids who want breakfast.  Then, I am alone in the room, and the kids want my attention, want me to listen to their stories and read the books they select.  They seem to really want to sit on my lap or right next to me, or have some kind of contact, at that time of the day.  But of course, I need to go to the door when another kid arrives.  So the kids aren’t “following the rules,” they aren’t sitting and reading, they’re following me around or running around the room or playing with things they aren’t supposed to.  At 8:45 or whenever the last kid has arrived, I sit down with them and everyone seems to calm down and sit with me.  I’ve been addressing that like my para would, by reiterating that they need to follow the rules, that I asked them to sit and read, giving a time-out if the behavior continues, etc.  But what they need is some “good morning” attention.  How can I do that?  Off the top of my head, I know the door needs to be locked, but what if it’s unlocked ONLY between 8:35 and 8:45?  The parents can let themselves in, sign the kid in, and come to me if they have a question or need to talk, rather than me leaving the kids to come to them.  Then I’m meeting the kids’ needs by sitting with them and interacting with them, and I can also ask the parents to call me before 8:30 or stop by after school if they need to talk to me.  If only all the parents would take advantage of email….Maybe I should emphasize that email really is the fastest way to get what they need from me without interrupting good teaching time!

Wow, it’s been a looooong time since I thought about work so much over the weekend!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Doris
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 11:26:15

    When I was doing daycare at home I set up a vidio camera one day and let it record for a while. on watching it Tammy pointed out “when you talk slow the kids move slower and more directed. When you talk and move more they talk and move more like singing and dancing.” I hadn’t thought of it but then started using this to pace the room to what I wanted from the kids. When I needed them to slow down and settle inf ro snack I had to slow down and settle in. When I wanted them to get ready to go outside I had to move more get more excited about what I was saying and doing. It seemed so simple but I had been doing it without even thinking.

    I wonder if you established a routine of greeting each child with some routine just you and that child have and do it the same every day would that signal the child that they have had the morning greeting and now will self entertain on the rug until all kids have had the greeting. Teacher tell me this is tough the first weeks of school but gets better when they get it down to a set pattern.

    I wish you were my kids’ preschool teacher!!! I know you would have been too young but still….



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