Two Students, Two Stories, And More To Think About

The last week of school before the winter holidays is always such an interesting one. While there are lots of fun festivities that always make children happy, there are also lots of changes in routine, that can result in increased problems. This year, we taught until December 23rd, so children and adults were both more aware of the upcoming holidays — particularly Christmas — and these changes in behaviour were very apparent this week. 

  • Classroom conversations seemed louder. There was a lot more noise. Even when children were just talking to each other, they seemed to do so in a louder voice.
  • Crying was at a premium. It didn’t seem to take much to lead to tears, and even children that usually don’t cry, seemed to be more easily upset. 
  • Friendships were tested. We heard many reasons that students were not being good friends or kind friends, and this again seemed linked to increased tears.

Thinking about the key question that Stuart Shanker often asks — Why this child and why now? — you could start to understand the possible reasons why these problems may be occurring. (These are just some possibilities, but there are certainly more.)

  • More classroom holiday festivities that change classroom schedules and sometimes lead to increased stress.
  • Late nights and less sleep as children attend different holiday parties.
  • Colder temperatures that cancel outdoor learning time and shift classroom routines.
  • More sugary snacks shared in the classroom: diet can have an impact on behaviour.
  • More assemblies that also change classroom schedules and increase sitting time.

And yet, even when we might know why, sometimes it’s a challenge to stop and reframe at the time. This week, I was reminded about the need to do just that.

The first time was during one of our assemblies. The problem was actually not with a student in our class, but with a child in a class that happened to be sitting near ours. We had a lot of parents attending the assembly, and as such, we were all sitting very closely to each other. A lack of personal space is a challenge for many students and adults. During one of the presentations, I happened to turn around and see an altercation between two students. Other teachers also saw the problem and responded by trying to get the students to move away from each other, but due to the lack of space, there was not a lot of room to move. Physical closeness only increased the problem. While one child looked as though he was calming down, the other child was clenching his fists and making noises: I knew he was still angry. I went up to the prep coverage teacher and asked if I could help. I’ve developed a relationship with this child, and asked if he wanted to come up and sit with me. He did. He slowly moved out of the crowd and over near the staff chairs. While with me, I was able to quietly talk to him, and he started to take a few deep breaths and relax. As the assembly progressed, he found a spot to sit away from everyone else. Even though this was not one of the assigned seating areas, I love how everyone in the room supported him in sitting there: knowing this is what he needed to succeed. 

The second time was a few days later in our classroom. It was the end of the day and everyone was getting ready for home. The winter weather means that children need to put on snowpants, boots, hats, scarves, and mittens in addition to a coat, so the dressing routine is far longer and more complicated than before. Add in the stress of the holiday season, and for some children, dressing time is further complicated. One child in particular was really struggling. I found him some personal space to get ready, but he just threw his snowpants and coat on the floor and refused. I decided to walk away for a bit, but a few minutes later, I heard him crying softly and making a growling sound. He was mad. I looked at my watch and realized that we had to be outside for dismissal in less than five minutes, and I was starting to feel frustrated. Why wouldn’t he just get dressed?! And then he said something that changed my response. In between the tears and the anger, he said, “Miss Dunsiger, my dragon is coming out.” I thought back to a couple of weeks ago and the dragon story I told. It was then that I turned to him, and in a quiet voice I said, “Do you need a hug?” His response: “Yes!” He walked over to me, we hugged, and then he said, “Now we can both be happy.” In minutes, he got dressed and ready to head home. 

These stories are a great reminder to me that …

  • relationships matter. They often help us see behaviour differently and view each other in a more positive light. 
  • sometimes our angriest students are the ones that need a hug most of all.
  • children know how we feel, and often a change in our behaviour will also result in a change in theirs.
  • we also need to be kind to ourselves. No matter how much we may know, we all make mistakes, and taking the opportunity to learn from them is so important. 
  • teaching is about so much more than just academics, and in those stressful weeks around holiday times, maybe we realize this the most. 

The other day, I happened to see this tweet from Jen Wright about stress behaviour versus misbehaviour. 

I can’t help but think about the two experiences from this past week at school, and how many times I would have responded differently and looked to punish what I was sure was “misbehaviour.” This tweet will be one that I’ll look at again as I head back to school in a couple of weeks: knowing that there’s stress then too, and at all different times of the year, children’s actions may not be as they initially appear to be. How do you remember to reframe and what value do you see for kids? I’m reminded of my one word  perspective — for 2017, and how reframing can help me gain a new perspective. What about you?


4 thoughts on “Two Students, Two Stories, And More To Think About

  1. These are some wonderful insights I will be sharing with my colleagues and students in teacher education. So important to see our own contributions in children’s behaviours and to give them tools to recognize and cope with their feelings.
    Thank you!

    • Thanks for your comment and for sharing this post with others. While both of these students benefitted from some co-regulation, when the one child found a spot somewhere else for the rest of the assembly, I saw that as a good example of self-regulation. I wonder if he realized how his initial spot made him feel and how this new spot was a better place for him. I’m not sure how much this metacognitive piece matters for young children, but maybe it’s a way to make them that much more aware of their feelings, even if they can’t totally describe them. The Foundations Courses through The MEHRIT Centre made me realize just how complicated feelings can be. Curious to hear what others think here. Thanks for continuing the conversation!


      • Thank you so much Hilde for your further comments. Your story about the cafeteria is an interesting one. I also wonder about the environment itself. What did the walls look like? How did the physical space compare to the space in your room? I wonder if some biological stressors were also at play, and possibly calmer colours and less clutter (there’s often a lot up in a classroom), made it easier for students to listen in this other space. Shanker addresses some of these points in his books — fantastic reads!

        It’s very interesting to watch children during these difficult times. Maybe it was the support from before that helped the child see a different space he could go to (and his need for space). I think that co-regulation has a huge, positive impact on people, and it’s as we support others with getting to “calm,” that we can provide some “think aloud” opportunities. Maybe kids don’t always need to know the why, but just be aware of options that could work.

        There’s always so much to think about!

  2. Aviva,

    Living and working at the other side of the world, I feel I’m missing out on some really interesting courses 🙁

    1) For as much as I know about metacognition and feelings I think the important thing is that the child found a way/spot that was helpful in their situation. The issue you raise, reminds me of the first year I taught teenagers in an inner city school in Brussels some 25 years ago. I had a hard time coping with all te behaviour issues in one group and one day I just felt a very urgent physical need to get out of the room. So I told them all to leave their gear in the classroom and we went to the cafetaria. We had a class discussion there and things worked better in the new thinking space where everyone was taken out of the room that already carried a lot of behavoural expectations. We used the cafetaria as classroom for some time after that incident. It was only afterwards I realised how important place and space and habits and thoughts are in relation to each other. It may not have dawned on the child in the assembly that they needed ‘some private space’ at big events, just as it did not to me and my students then. However, the help of an adult who introduces this idea, may help children in putting words to this intuitive understanding and consequently in realising when they are in the same situation to seek out a similar solution and probably, after some time, in being able to prevent a similar thing happening. If metacognition is first knowing what we think and feel, it may develop into regulating how we think and how we deal with our feelings. Both of these stages ask of the teacher to think and feel along, to translate what children experience into words, and to elicit and provide a variety of possible strategies to deal with what they experience. One of the reasons S. Shanker’s work is on my reading list these holidays.
    2) How wonderful it is when children can experience the help and understanding of others to find their way in processing what keeps them busy and what hinders them in their development and wellbeing. If we look for the need a child may experience or express, it is so much easier to want to understand and to find positive and productive ways to handle/deal with ‘unwanted’ behavour.
    Still so much to learn.

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