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.
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?