How Learning To “Get Down” Changed Things For Me!

Sometimes as much as we can know the “right” thing to do, at the time, it’s hard to remember. It can take the model of another person to provide this very important reminder. This is what happened to me at recess the other day. I was out on duty in the primary wing, and our principal, John, came up to me to ask if I’d seen a particular student. I hadn’t at the time, but then I saw him on the playground equipment. I called him over. This student walked around with me on lunch duty the previous week, remembered me, and fairly quickly responded to the call. He started to come over to me, and then saw another child standing beside John. You could see this student stiffen, panic, and start to run away. I thought of the Self-Regulation Foundations Courses, and right away, thought, “He’s stressed. He’s scared. How should I respond?” I found myself lowering my voice, but also moving closer to him, and in retrospect, I think that the proximity triggered him more. Then John showed me something — quite unknowingly to him — that really stuck with me.

John crouched down really low on the ground. In the quietest voice, he started talking to this child that was actually still quite a distance away from him. Getting down made all the difference. The child responded to him right away and moved closer. He started talking, and in both his words and actions, you could tell that he was calming down. Amazing!

Fast forward about 15 minutes, and I had moved inside for lunch duty. A monitor from this child’s class came to see me. She confronted this student about a problem, he got angry, and was now hiding under the table. I went right to the room, and all of the students in the class were gathering around this student and the table. This was just making him more angry and upset. I first asked the other students in the class to go and sit down, which they did, and then I followed John’s lead from earlier: I got down on the floor. I was now sitting eye level with this child — maybe even a bit lower than him — and just outside the table. I lowered my voice too, and asked what was up. He shared that he was angry and what made him feel that way, and then I asked, “Do you need a break? Do you want to do duty with me?” He did, and quickly came out from under the table.

We walked the halls a few times, and returned when the bell went and his teacher arrived. By explaining to the teacher what happened, the teacher then knew that this child had been dysregulated, was just calming down, and may need some additional support for the afternoon. This support and these positive moments are exactly what the teacher gave this child.

These experiences made me think back to my responses to behaviour in the past. Would I have focused on punishment instead of focusing on solving the problem? Would I have seen this behaviour as “misbehaviour” versus “stress behaviour,” and would this perception have changed my actions? Among other things, the Foundations Courses taught me the value in being “kinder than necessary.” Thanks to the model from my principal and the support of other educators, I definitely saw the value in “additional kindness” this week. Maybe we can all benefit from this valuable reminder. What do you think?


2 thoughts on “How Learning To “Get Down” Changed Things For Me!

  1. Thanks for that inspirational post Aviva.

    While reading, I was reminded of the outstanding ‘Think, Feel, Act’ research briefs and the section by Dr. Jean Clinton, Hamilton’s very own:

    She reminds us of the powerful role that connections play and the impact they have on our day to day interactions and human development in general.

    Still resonating for me: ‘relationships are nutrients for the brain’

    Dr. Clinton provides some simple ways to build connections modified from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (Ostrosky, M. M. & Jung, E. Y., 2010). The first:
    • Be at the child’s level for face-to-face interactions

    It is heartening to know that our future society is being nurtured in your and John’s hands and others like you who embrace this approach to learning and teaching.

    My current wondering: when do these nurturing relationships cross the line from nurture to coddle? When is the point when our empathy robs the child from learning about facing adversity and building resilience for this world in which we live?

    My guess is that a sensitive balance is once again the key. Thoughts?

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Thanks for your comment, @Nmcfdelk! I’m so glad that you mentioned Dr. Jean Clinton’s work. I actually remember reading this now, and completely forgot about it until you brought it up again. I will say that in the classroom, I find myself “getting down to the child’s level” more often, but when in a “duty capacity,” it never even crossed my mind. Watching John in action was a good reminder for me that this is an important/worthwhile approach whether on duty or while teaching. I must say that I’m thrilled to work at a school where all educators really are looking for ways to best support students, see them succeed, and explore “solutions” rather than “punishment.” Being a part of this kind of environment is so important as an adult too. It helps support us in seeing things differently.

      Your question about “crossing the line from nurturing to coddling” is an important one. Is this where knowing our students plays the biggest role? Then we know when children are ready for the next step. We know when they can deal with the stress without the stress becoming too overwhelming. From the Foundations Courses, I remember learning about “good stress and bad stress,” and I wonder if this plays a role here too. Some students may need this support for longer, while others will find ways to face the adversity, problem solve, and try again. I guess it kind of reminds me of co-regulation versus self-regulation. I’d be curious to know what others think.

      Thanks for extending this discussion!

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