The Day “Ish” Drowned, And I Started To See Things Differently …

I know that I’ve been blogging a lot about self-regulation, especially since reading Stuart Shanker’s book, taking The MEHRIT Centre’s Foundations courses, and starting to moderate Portal Plus for The MEHRIT Centre. All of these experiences have given me a better understanding of self-regulation for myself and my students. I’ve learned what I’m good at doing and where I struggle, and making self-regulation a part of my professional inquiry, has allowed me to focus on it even more. With all of my self-regulation aha moments, it was actually what happened this week that was truly an awakening for me.

It was near the end of the day, and our students were engaged in their free exploration time. It was the final twenty minutes of my prep time, and I was working with a child on emptying the sensory bin. Why did we have to empty it? The bin was full of water, but this child took a big squeezable bottle of white glue and dumped it in there. When I asked, “Why?,” this student explained that the glue bottle was the perfect bottle for the doll. “And all babies need bottles … right, Miss Dunsiger?” How could I argue with this logic, even though the gluey, sticky mess was stressing me out?! As we were emptying the bin, another child was at the sink filling up a little container of water. “I’m making a cake.” Then this child decided to bring the “cake” over to a friend, but dropped the container on the way, and there was water everywhere. I decided to move over to help this child clean up the flood, and I told the other child to feel free and go and work with some friends. This child decided to go and do some beading, but accidentally knocked over the entire container of beads — probably close to 200 — and they rolled across the table, chair, and floor. I asked this child to pick up the beads, but when doing so, this student noticed a book on the art table. It had some paint on it. This child decided to clean it off for me, brought it to the sink, turned the taps on full blast, and submerged the book in the water. I heard the taps running, turned around, saw my book drowning, and said, “Stop, stop, stop,” as I rushed over to the sink to save the drowning literature. When I got there, I’ll admit I was feeling angry, but then the child spoke to me: “Miss Dunsiger, there was paint on your book. I’m cleaning it for you.” Oh my … Now I have all of these mixed feelings. I have to throw out one of my favourite books — waterlogged Ish is now more book-ish than anything else, but this child didn’t do this on purpose. This student is staring at me with wide, teary-eyes and explaining the rationale for the soaked book, and it makes so much sense. As Shanker would probably say, “This is when the reframe happened.” This wasn’t misbehaviour. The child’s intentions were the best. And I feel terribly for feeling angry and not understanding “then” what I understand “now.” I tell the child this. I apologize. I said that I realize this child’s desire to help, but next time, maybe just bring the book to me and we can problem solve without water. I said that books don’t like water. This worked, and we managed to get all of the messes cleaned up and all of us went home happy.

It was on this day that I really started to see things differently.

– The glue in the water was just a desire to get creative with a bottle (that happens to fit perfectly in the baby doll’s mouth).
– The spilled container of water was just a desire to extend dramatic play and share a “cake” with some friends.
– The spilled beads were just a case of a child not realizing the closeness of his/her arm (I’m being purposely vague here as the gender of the child doesn’t really matter) to the container of beads.
– And the drowned book was just a case of a child trying to be helpful and not realizing that water doesn’t work the same with books as it does with people.

Sometimes classroom problems seem to multiply. Sometimes it’s hard to resist our own urge to react or even listen to our own feelings, which sometimes show through even when we don’t want them to. But since this day, I find myself thinking about problems differently.

– “This child is struggling because it’s the end of the day and he/she needs to move more. How can we give him/her this opportunity?”
– “This child is struggling because it’s getting too loud in the room. How can we bring the volume down?”
– “This child is struggling because of a combination of social interactions. How can we change this social dynamic?”
– “This child is struggling because clean-up time seems too unstructured for him/her. How can we provide more structure for this child that needs it?”

These are just some of the thoughts that are going through my mind. I don’t know all of the answers, and even when I think I know what might work, sometimes it’s easier said than done. But I think of the idea of “soft eyes,” and I realize that this child the other day helped me look at more interactions with softer eyes, a kinder perspective, and just a different outlook altogether. It’s almost like seeing classroom interactions through a different lens: a movie in my mind at the same time that I’m living it. Have you ever had this happen before? What impact has this had on your teaching, parenting, and/or interactions with children? The more that I learn about self-regulation, the more that I realize how it impacts on everything I do, see, and experience. I wonder how many others find the same thing.


2 thoughts on “The Day “Ish” Drowned, And I Started To See Things Differently …

  1. Hi Aviva,
    I learned a lot from one little boy named Thomas. Early on in my career I realized that I was struggling with the student because of myself and my attitude. I needed to self-regulate my emotions when working with this student. I learned to reframe problems from his perspective. After I realized that it was me that needed to make the greater effort I was able to work much better with that student. As an aside, I ran into him a few months ago- a successful adult with a booming business. He apologized for not having exemplary behaviour way back in grade one. I immediately told him how thankful I was for all he taught me and definitely no need to apologize!

    • This is such a great story, Carla! Thanks for sharing it, and also for doing all that you did to change, so that Thomas could succeed. It sounds like your reframing really mattered.


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