Today, my teaching partner, Paula, and I had an opportunity to visit the Family Literacy Centre connected to Dr. Davey School. While I worked at Dr. Davey for the past couple of years, I never got a chance to see this program in action or have such an in-depth conversation with the person that facilitates it. Both Paula and I had a lot of aha moments during our visit today, but one of my biggest ones actually made me think back to the Foundations 1 course through The MEHRIT Centre. We spoke a lot today about how stressful school can be for both children and parents, and how difficult the transition can be. Tears, especially at the beginning of the year, are very common. While this is my tenth year teaching Kindergarten, and I have seen and dealt with many tears in the past, it was this conversation that made me realize how much my response to them needs to change.
Let me explain: I have always been the teacher that says, “Don’t worry! Your child will be fine. Just go. The tears will stop.” I have watched children screeching for their mom or dad, and have still suggested that the parent leave. I’ve seen children try to chase after their parents, and have blocked the way … again suggesting that the moms and dads go. My thought has always been, don’t let the parent come into the classroom. While a mom or dad may have the best of intentions, this is just going to make the tears worse. They’ll last longer. How will we ever get the child to stop crying? The child may NEVER transition to school.
Then this year happened. During the first week of school, one of our JK students really struggled with the morning transition. He would not let go of his mom or dad. I had every intention of responding as I always do to tears, but then Paula responded differently.
- She invited the parent to follow us into the classroom and out back to our play space.
- She let the student go and visit his brother in the school. The other teacher even let this JK child join her class until he was ready to come back to ours.
- She invited the older sibling to come and visit our class regularly, and the two of them even went to get him sometimes to come down.
I remember asking Paula, “Are you sure this is a good idea?” I encouraged her to maybe consider a different approach, but thankfully, she held firm. When the week was over, this child stopped crying in the mornings. He made some new friends and was excited to play with them. Some SK children in the classroom looked out for him each morning, and comforted him with a hug, a smile, and words such as, “Do you want to play with me today?”
Here I was, sure that Paula’s plan was just going to make the transition more difficult, when in fact, it made it much easier. I definitely owe her apologies many times over. I also owe apologies to the parents and students that I taught in the past. I wish now that I reconsidered the quick goodbyes and saw the tears for what they were: a stress response. As we talked more about this today, Stuart Shanker‘s thinking — supported by Paula in her actions — made so much more sense.
- When the year begins, we haven’t developed those relationships yet with students or parents.
- We can offer children a hug or hold their hand, but our touch doesn’t soothe them yet. The strong bond that children have with their parents and their siblings are very different.
- As children make friends, the hand holding, hugs, and kind words from their peers start to soothe them as well.
- And as we develop relationships with children — and they realize that they are safe and loved — our connection with them also starts to soothe them.
- Parents begin to know that we care — that we will support their children and inform them when the tears stop — and this makes them feel less stressed. Children can feel adult stress as well, so when parents are calmer, children are also calmer.
I speak about the importance of parent engagement, and truly believe that parents are our partners in education, but when it came to “saying goodbye,” I used to have a different perspective. I’m so grateful that Paula vocalized another approach, and that our visit to the Family Literacy Centre today, reinforced the importance of meeting each child where he/she is at socially, emotionally, and academically. The home-to-school transition is an important part of this. Imagine if, we replaced the words, “Just go,” with “Why don’t you stay with us for a bit?” How might this change a child’s attitude towards school?