When We View Children As “Competent And Capable,” What Does This Really Mean?

It’s funny how a combination of small incidents over the course of a day can make you see the big picture differently. This was the case for me yesterday.

It all started in the morning when we were out in the forest together. I noticed a student call over another child during play. These children don’t interact regularly, so I was curious as to why they were doing so now. I went over to see this group of girls in the trees, and this is what I found out.

It really stuck with me that this was one time when nobody called me over. They knew that even though I may be an adult in the room, I was not the best person for this job. 

This experience also stuck with me for another reason: when I started interacting with the child in the tree, I thought that she was just climbing further up for the sake of just going higher. I forgot about that important line in the Kindergarten Program Document to see children as “competent and capable.” It’s when we see them this way that we view their actions differently and realize that there’s more behind the decisions that they make.

It wasn’t long after this that another child in the group started to climb up in the tree. She didn’t get as high up as the first child, but when she went to climb down, I heard her say to her friends, “I need some help.” These words provided me with quite the challenge. As my teaching partner, Paula, would tell you, at the beginning of the school year, these words would have had me running to the tree, scared about what might happen next, and trying to help the child get out. I resisted the urge to do this for a number of reasons.

  • The child sounded calm. While she requested help, she wasn’t screaming or crying. She was just asking.
  • I knew the child could get down safely. I reminded myself that I’ve seen her climb many times before, and much higher up than she was today. 
  • The child did not ask me for help. While I was standing near the tree and watching the action unfold, she never called my name. She called the name of one of her peers, and this student went over to help her out. 

Listening to the discussion between the child in the tree and her classmate on the ground, I was reminded again about the importance of the belief that students are “competent and capable.” Not once did the child on the ground try to pull down her friend or increase panic. She calmly talked the student through where she could step next. 

  • They spoke about the circumference of the branches and the safest branch to step on.
  • They worked out a plan for the easiest descent, and then made changes to this plan as needed. 
  • She reminded her friend that she was “safe, a good climber, and could get down on her own.” 

As much as I wanted to intervene, I think that I would have actually increased the potential for problems. If I communicated that I was worried, the child in the tree may have also become worried and made less thoughtful choices than she made with her peer. I would have also likely solved the problem for this student. Instead of giving the child a chance to problem solve, realizing her capabilities, and meeting with success, I would have rescued her. It may be hard to always do, but it’s incredible to watch when children can “rescue each other,” and convince their peers that they can actually “save themselves.”

It wasn’t long after this tree incident that we went inside, and then I was challenged once again. Usually Paula runs our morning meeting time, but she was away on Friday, so I ran it. I realized that the children were a little wiggly, chatty, and unfocused, and I thought that a “deep breath” might help. This is something that they do a lot with Paula, and it really seems to help our students calm down. Paula rings a small bell, and the children breathe when they hear this bell. I went to go and do the same thing, and here’s what happened.

As much as I hate to admit it, in the past, I would have been reluctant to accept help from a child. I probably would have argued that the sound was “good enough,” and the children “knew what to do anyway.” I almost considered responding in this way on Friday. But then, I thought again about children being “competent and capable,” and this means that they can often help us along with us helping them. We just have to be open for this help. 

On Friday, I was reminded that …

  • children can support each other well. There is something incredibly beautiful about students seeking each other out for help. 
  • the adult is not always the best authority in the room. 
  • all children can be metacognitive when we give them opportunities to be and have modelled this behaviour since September.
  • there is still more I can do to show children that I view them as “competent and capable.”

I was left wondering how other people communicate their “view of the child” to their students. How do you show children just how “competent and capable” you know that they are? What else could you do? While I realize the importance of this view from a classroom perspective, I also wonder about it from a home perspective. As parents, how do you communicate this important view, and what might this mean about a child’s belief in him/herself? Every day, I’m reminded just how incredible children can be, and I’m forever forced to think about what else I can do to share these views with them.

Aviva

What If “Just Go” Was Replaced With “Why Don’t You Stay?”

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? 

Aviva

What Would You Do With The Blocks?

I’ll admit it: I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the blocks. Students build amazing things with the various blocks in our classroom. They use the blocks in ways that I would have never considered. While at times the loudness of the block area can bother me, my biggest problem right now is that students use this space and these materials in the same way every single day

My teaching partner, Paula, and I spoke about this briefly on the last day of school before March Break. We also noticed this same problem earlier in the year. Students regularly built dinosaur hotels or museums. While their structures were great and often led to exploring math concepts and engaging in writing, the structures themselves rarely changed.

Even when we had children tidy up what they made, they often packed the structures up on the shelves, and then resurrected them the next day. 

While I do love the math thinking that goes into these shelf structures, when the block buildings continue to look the same day after day, I wonder how much thinking and learning is going into their design. Before Christmas holidays, Paula and I chatted about this, and we decided to add some new materials to the block area to see if that would interrupt the playIt did! 

We added the Q-BA Maze 2.0 marble run that students initially used independently from the blocks to make marble runs. Then they used the pieces in conjunction with the blocks to create some block marble runs.

It didn’t take long for a group of students to realize that they could use these marble run pieces to make robots, and now they have included them in their block structures.

But now the dinosaur hotels/museums from September are being replaced with robot structures that tend to resemble each other day after day. Now what?

I was doing some thinking over the March Break, and that’s when I thought back to this Rube Goldberg Machine that Darla Myers shared on Instagram. 

I asked her today if she had a video to share of the process, and she generously shared this one.

Even though this Rube Goldberg Machine isn’t working, seeing what other Kindergarten children have tried and maybe having our students engage in some problem solving of their own, could lead to a new use of old materials (i.e., blocks, Lego, dominoes, ramps, and marbles)Could this be the intentional interruption that our students need? 

Paula and I have not had a chance to talk about this idea or brainstorm other ones yet. As the March Break comes to an end, my brain is busy thinking about possibilities, so I thought that I would bring this question to my blogging community. What have you tried before or what might you try in this case? We know the children love to build. We want to explore different ways to use some favourite materials that will hopefully lead to increased problem solving and innovation. All ideas are welcome!

Aviva

THAT Child

This is not a story about one of my students. It is not even a story about a child in the same grade that I teach. It is a story though about a child that continues to change me. 

I met this student at recess one day. There was a problem in the lunchroom. My suggestion to have him come and walk with me, seemed to make a difference, and by the time that we both got back to class, he was a lot calmer. 

  • Maybe the physical movement helped.
  • Maybe the change of scenery helped.
  • Maybe connecting with someone who understood him, helped.

This child went from screaming and crying to smiling, and there was something about that smile that stuck with me. I think it was knowing that my tone and actions helped result in a positive change. It was the realization, that as educators, we can make a difference.

This was back in September. This child and I have interacted many times since then. Over the past seven months, he has reminded me of numerous things.

  • That tears are a stress response.
  • That those that hit do not always intend to hurt.
  • That we would “use our words” if we had the words to use.
  • That sometimes, when we feel the most angry and upset, the offer of a hug is the best offer of all.
  • That we all need to feel loved and know that there are people out there that love us.
  • That we have to seek to understand a child’s perspective, even when that perspective may be hard to understand.
  • That fewer words, a quieter tone, and getting down low, almost always make a big difference.
  • That our end goal is not to punish.

As I continue to learn more about self-regulation, I will admit that I make many mistakes. I often react as I shouldn’t or say things that I wish I didn’t. But this child is the exception: with him, I remember what I need to do. I remember what he needs. And I see the power of Shanker‘s work in actionreminding me that this is what I have to remember when working with every other child. 

I am far from perfect, but this child continues to change me, and for that, I’m grateful. Who is your “child?” May we all have stories to share of those students that help make us better.

Aviva

March Break Wonders: How Do You Avoid The Guilt?

I love March Break! We have a longer break at Christmastime, but with family celebrations and Communications of Learning (or report cards) on the horizon, I never seem to take as much time to relax. Our summer break is the longest of all, but for years, I’ve taught for at least a month over the summer, so again, my “me time” is less. March Break is different. The end of the year is still too far away to start Communications of Learning or report cards, and while I always have a little planning to do, most of the break can truly be used as a break. 

Last year, I blogged about my need for March Break, and this week, I’ve been thinking about this as well. But today, I started to also feel a little differently: I began to feel guilty about taking this much time for me. 

  • I haven’t blogged since the weekend. I haven’t even thought about blogging since then.
  • I’ve slept in every day. Usually my alarm goes off at 4:30, and this week, I haven’t gotten up until at least 8:00.
  • I just started my fourth book of the break, and every one of them has been a mystery/suspense novel. I usually try to read at least one professional book over the holiday, and thanks to Cory Jobb, I have one to read, but I haven’t even thought about beginning The Play’s The Thing yet. 
  • I’ve tweeted far less than usual. Most of my tweets are actually conversational ones with Lori St. Amand about the books I’m reading versus professional ones and reflective posts.

I know that taking this “me time” is beneficial for both me and our students. When we feel calmer, our interactions with children change, and that’s good for everyone. But as I see posts about planning and professional reads, I begin to wonder if I should be doing more. How much time do you take for yourself over the holidays? How do you avoid the guilt that sometimes comes from focusing on “you?” I’d welcome some words of advice as I continue to read, relax, and enjoy March Break!

Aviva