Why Is “Telling” A Problem?

The other day, I had a really interesting conversation with my teaching partner, which I mentioned to her that I would like to bring to this blog. The conversation stemmed from an experience a couple of days before. I happened to be on duty during the First Nutrition Break, and when I came back to class after duty, I saw Paula crouched down over the eating table comforting a child that was obviously upset. I heard her talking with both this child and the one sitting beside him. As I moved over to another group of students, I caught some snippets of the conversation at the eating table, but everything seemed to be resolved quickly, and we didn’t really re-look at what happened until a couple of days later: when another discussion prompted Paula to mention this situation.

It turns out that Paula got involved in the problem when she saw and heard the little boy crying. He was visibly upset, and looked for a hug and some soothing words to calm down. When he was feeling better, she asked him what made him so sad, and he replied, “_______ [a child sitting beside him] was going to tell on me.” Paula found it really interesting that there would be such a huge, emotional reaction to knowing that a child was going to “tell on him.” She said that she’s seen this before with other students — as have I — and she always wondered why “telling” made children so upset. Her thinking was,

  • We always look to find out more about what happened. Paula taught me the importance of this. Even if a child says to me, “[Name] slapped me,” I’ll follow-up with, “What was happening at the time? What were you doing? What was [Name] doing? Let’s go talk to him/her.” Until I worked with Paula, I never realized how often I passed judgement before following up with everybody on a problem. It’s amazing though that when we really listen to kids, often there are no issues that are as clear-cut as we may think. Hits, kicks, punches, etc., are rarely unmotivated, and usually happen as part of more physical games, such as tag games, Star Wars reenactments,  Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/superheros play, or Zombie activities. If you’re playing a game where everybody is “fighting bad guys,” it’s not surprising that things get physical quickly.
  • We don’t seek to punish. We work hard on “understanding” versus “punishing.” Maybe this has something to also do with the age group, as so many of these problems are also learning experiences for kids. Often times, we might suggest a different activity or ask questions to get children to think of their own solutions to the problem. It’s amazing what you hear from even your youngest learners when you say, “What might you be able to do to make your friend feel better?”
  • We rarely solve problems for kids. Some children need some more support in problem solving than others, and sometimes we need to ask some more specific questions to really get children to resolve problems independently, but we try hard to not be the ones dictating solutions. We want our students to think about problems and think about solutions. I keep thinking back to a duty experience I had about a month ago. Children were playing soccer outside, and a child came to me to say that another child pushed him. I called the other child over, and he explained what happened and why he pushed him. I looked at the student that came to me initially and I said, “What would you like the solution to be?” He said, “I think I should get a foul shot.” I looked at the other child. “What do you think?” He agreed, so the children went off, and the child got his foul shot. I could have imposed a punishment or pulled the child from the game, but giving the children ownership over the problem and the solution, also helped decrease the stress and lead to a very reasonable solution.
  • We don’t give up on kids! Even when there is a problem and we have to get involved, we make sure to reconnect with all parties throughout the day. We spend some quiet time together with the children: playing together, asking questions, or maybe even just sitting down and conversing over lunch. We want children to know that we still care about them, no matter what may have happened throughout the day. Relationships matter, and kids need to know how valuable these relationships are to us!

Talking this “telling experience” through with Paula made us wonder, 

  • When do children become so scared of “telling?”
  • What do they think is going to happen?
  • How can we help children see “telling” as less of a threat? 

If there is a real problem, we want to know about it, but not at the expense of a child’s well-being. Imagine if children so young are fearing what happens when an adult finds out about a problem. What impact might this then have when they grow older? Kids need to know that adults are there for them — that they support and believe in them — and seeing the eating table experience from last week, I wonder how quickly they sometimes forget that this is true.



Is The Problem Even Bigger Than This?

Guns terrify me! I have never been up close to one, and I don’t want to be. I remember listening to a police officer once present to a group of young children. They were very interested in his gun, and asked about firing it. He spoke about everything officers do to get criminals to surrender before firing. The intent is never to hurt. The intent is never to kill. And yet, we live in a world where there’s talk of arming teachers in schools in the States. While I really hope that what Doug Peterson implied in his recent blog post is true, and that this suggestion is ultimately what leads to more problem solving and conversations around school violence, the fact that we’re at a point that this option has to be discussed, is what might worry me the most.

I don’t live in The States, but I have friends and close family members that do. And if this kind of violence can happen in The States, can it also happen across the border? I think of the lock down drills that we practice at school. Just talking about these drills with Kindergarten students is a challenge. We don’t even say much. We don’t talk about guns and death. We look more at the fact that we practice fire drills to stay safe, and the same is true for lock down drills. But with a lock down drill, we don’t go outside: we hide quietly inside until the drill is over. We let children know that we’re there with them, and that they’re safe. There are always kids though that can’t sleep the night before a drill or start quietly crying when it happens. It breaks my heart!

I remember last year when my teaching partner, Paula, told our class about the lock down drill. She borrowed an example from a teacher friend of hers. The teacher used to teach in a country school. One day, they had a lock down drill because a bull got into the school and was running up and down the hallways. It wasn’t safe for them to leave their classrooms because of the bull. We thought that this real example would be less scary than a person with a gun … and I think it was, but it still scared them. What animals could enter our school? What if a lion did? A tiger? A bear? Pretty soon our attempt to alleviate concern led to the epic lock down drill discussion that had parents talking to us later about bulls running down the hallways. While we could both giggle about the “bull conundrum” later on, the lock down drill itself isn’t funny!

I used to wonder why we even had to practice the drill at our school. I teach at a lovely school in a beautiful area. It’s a K-6 school, with incredible parents and children. Nothing’s going to happen here. We’re safe. I still believe that this is true, but then I look at what happened in Florida. That school was also great one in a nice neighbourhood. Has violence become a new reality? Safe schools are a Board priority. A safe classroom is ours. And there’s nothing that we won’t do for our kids and their families … but I really hope that our job never includes even the thought of carrying a gun.

I wonder though: what is the solution here? How do we end this violence, without creating more violence? I don’t want this post to become a political one, or a comparison of Canada versus The States. It doesn’t matter. This post is not about increasing panic, or suggesting that we talk to our kids even more about school shootings. It is though about identifying a real problem, and questioning how we address it. For I don’t want any children, parents, educators, or administrators entering a school, scared to be there. How does anybody learn in that kind of environment?


What’s The Other Side Of Family Day?

This morning, I started off my day as I always do, reading Doug Peterson‘s daily blog post. His post today really resonated with me, and while I commented, I also need to follow through with the request in Doug’s tweets.

I think it’s time to look at the other side of Family Day. 

I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t enjoyed the long weekend. With Communications of Learning all written, edited, and distributed now, I actually spent some time this weekend for me. I met friends for brunch. I read a great new book. I took a few naps, and I even enjoyed a nice dinner with my family. But I’m one of the lucky ones! 

  • I have the day off.
  • I have a car, and I can drive myself to where I want to go … even if I sometimes get lost. 🙂
  • I have a safe, warm, nice place to live and sleep … even when my dogs decide that sleep is not in the plans for the night. 🙂
  • I have a wonderful group of family and friends, and they’re all off for the long weekend.
  • I have a good disposable income: I can afford what I want to do for this extra day at home.

I’ve taught though in schools with students and staff members that are not as lucky. 

  • An extra day at home might mean being alone with the kids while the spouse goes off to work.
  • An extra day at home might be a sad one because their child is at the other parent’s house for the weekend: there’s only one Family Day, but possibly, a few different “families.”
  • An extra day at home means another day without a Snack Program or a Breakfast Program. Will there be enough food for everyone to eat?
  • An extra day at home becomes a problem because the parents have to work, but there’s no childcare for the kids. Can they afford this?
  • An extra day at home means a need to entertain the children in the area because movies, indoor playgrounds, and trips to recreational activities cost money … and the money isn’t there. But it’s supposed to rain on Monday, so how do you spend another day with a large family in the rain?

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it is a list of actual things that happen. I’ve seen them all, and as a teacher, I’ve watched students that have experienced them all. As much as I love a long weekend — especially one where I can truly relax — I keep thinking about this encounter with a student almost three years ago now. This moment shaped me, and made me realize that not everybody finds joy in the holidays. 

I’m not necessarily suggesting that we get rid of Family Day. 

  • Maybe a different name would make the day seem less stressful for some.
  • Maybe ensuring that more people are off would make the day easier to manage.
  • Maybe creating some additional, free community events would provide options for parents that can’t afford a bus ride, a car trip, or admittance to various events or places (e.g., Lego Land).
  • Maybe some extra food for the long weekend (from services such as Food4Kids) would help reduce the stress of not having enough to eat for another full day at home. 

And maybe it’s just about knowing that when we go back to school on Tuesday, not everybody is going to have a special, happy story to share about the long weekend. So celebrate being back at school.

  • Share an extra smile.
  • Give an extra hug.
  • Be understanding that another day at home might not be a gift for everyone.
  • Listen … lots!
  • Know that there might be a bigger story behind the behaviour that we see … and that story might involve Family Day. Be caring, compassionate, and kind!

Love might be needed even more tomorrow, as it’s not always easy returning from a long weekend. And one of the greatest things I learned from my diverse teaching experiences is THIS. The world is not always full of sunshine and roses, and having this perspective, makes me love and appreciate the wonders of school even more than I did before. What about you? How do you gain a multi-faceted perspective on holidays, and how does this impact on your interactions with kids and adults at school? Remember that going back to school tomorrow — to a consistent routine with food and friendly, familiar faces — may be the best part about this long weekend for many kids and adults.


Could A Hug Change Everything?

There are many things that I could blog about today, but it’s an experience from yesterday that really has me thinking. At the end of the school day, I knew that this would be the blog post that I would be writing tomorrow. 

Yesterday, my teaching partner, Paula, was away, and we had a supply in for her. The supply has been in the classroom before, and already knew most of the children. This relationship helped! She just returned from her lunch break, and decided to join some students working at the Lego table. I was working with children over at the creative table … not that far away. At the time, my back was to the Lego table, but something made me turn around. I’m not sure what. Maybe I heard something. Maybe I just felt a change in the classroom. But for whatever the reason, I looked.

The supply was sitting across from two students that were initially playing together. Then one child started to bang down on the work that another child was doing. I heard the words, “Please stop!” Then a few minutes later, I heard the words, “Stop!!” (Much louder this time.) And then less than a minute after that, the child screamed, “Stop!!,” again, and started to hit the table, growl, and cry at the same time. The supply was trying to support both children at this point, but the screaming, hitting, growling, and crying continued, and nothing the supply was doing seemed to help. I stood up at this point, called the upset child’s name, and told the child to move. I pointed to an empty stool near the sensory table (which happened to be unoccupied at the time). I had to say the child’s name and point to the stool a few times, but as I walked closer to the Lego table, the child moved.

I was now standing across from the child. There was no doubt about it: this child was angry and upset. I got down low, and reminded this child to breathe. I know that taking deep breaths works for this child. I will admit that I started to lecture this child about what I observed. Screaming, hitting, and growling were not necessary, and not okay … or were they? No matter what I’ve read and learned about self-regulation, my initial reaction was to view this child’s response as misbehaviour, but could it instead be stress behaviour? Just as I began my lecture, I stopped. Maybe I heard Stuart Shanker‘s voice in my head. Maybe I heard Susan Hopkins. Or maybe I just heard myself. 

At that moment, I got a lot quieter, and I asked this child, “Are you ready to talk?” I saw a small nod. “Okay, what happened?” The child then explained how the other child continued to wreck this child’s creation, and every attempt to rebuild was met with another problem. “I’m just so angry!,” this child said. Wow! This child could identify feelings and what triggered them. I asked the child, “Could we move your building somewhere else?” The child then explained to me the need for a table, and the fact that the Lego table was already in use. I mentioned that the sensory bin was empty, and seemed to be for most of the day. “What if we put the lid back on it? Could you use that?” The child thought that might work, and even thought about adding a chair beside for the additional room required. 

In just a few minutes, we figured out the problem together. As we stood up, I looked at the child that seemed better now, but still looked a little upset, and asked, “Do you need a hug?” That’s when the child said, “Yes!,” and grabbed me for a hug. The child stayed hugging me for a few minutes, and I could actually feel the child’s body calm down before letting go. It took less than seven minutes for this child to go from angry and upset, to calm, engaged, and refocused on some new learning. 

I’ve purposely avoided mentioning if this child is a JK or SK student and a boy or a girl. It doesn’t matter! A similar situation could happen with any child. And when the issue was resolved, and everything was good again, I realized how quickly I could have — and almost did — escalate this problem. This could have become an office issue. It could have led to a need to contact parents. It could have dominated the rest of our day. For it doesn’t take long to engage in a power struggle, which tends to make things so much worse. I will admit that I’ve engaged in these struggles in the past: with the best of intentions, but far less successful results. Watching this child’s anger increase at the start of this problem, I would never have considered this child’s need for a hug, and yet, that interbrain connection was I think what ultimately made things better: both at the time and for the rest of the day!

This whole situation brings me back to the question on if our goal is to punish or to understand. I choose understanding. What about you? I wonder how many problems might easily diffuse with a gentle tone, a little time, and a big hug. 


Feeling Tired This Valentine’s Day? Could This Be Why?

As I yawn away at my computer tonight, I’m also inspired to blog. Today was Valentine’s Day, and in Kindergarten, it’s quite the experience. Our kids were fantastic, and took control over this special day, but as my teaching partner, Paula, and I met to reflect together at the end of the day, we both struggled with staying awake. Why?  I can’t help but wonder if exploring the day through a Self-Reg lens might help us figure out why we’re so tired!

Tonight, I’m thinking about this blog post that I wrote for The MEHRIT Centre just over a year ago now. It explores stressors in The Five Domains, and as I reflect on Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but think more about these stressors. 

First there is the biological stressor of the additional mess today. Paula and I really wanted students to own the distribution of valentines. We decided not to have a party, but instead respect the interests of the students, and invite children to participate in any way that they wanted. We shared this note with parents, and happily embraced this differentiated approach to Valentine’s Day. Since we didn’t want the valentines (along with any additional noise, excitement, and mess) to be a centre of the learning today, we decided to use our dramatic play space for a valentines distribution area. We invited some children to organize the bags (that others made yesterday), and to help with handing out the Valentine’s Day cards. Then Paula and I stayed out of this space! This wasn’t easy to do. The floor was sprinkled with valentines. Bags kept getting moved around. It took a REALLY long time for children to distribute all of their cards, and the pile of cards on the floor kept on growing. More children gathered in this small space. We asked one child to help another one hand out his cards. She went in for a little while, and then came back out. She said to me, “I just find this too stressful, Miss Dunsiger. Everyone’s moving the bags.” She demonstrated some great self-regulation when she realized she needed to get out of this space, take a deep breath, and engage in some writing, as a way to calm down. I guess that we weren’t the only ones impacted by the mess … but just like us, she chose to step back. 

Next there is the social stressor that comes from a day high in social interactions. While our class didn’t have a party, I was on duty during the Second Nutrition Break in the primary wing of the school. All of the classes had parties. There were games, food, and cards to distribute. The usual classroom routine was different today, and the children that need this routine the most, struggled. I dealt with more friendship problems outside than I usually do. When all of the children lined up to go in, I told them, “On a day all about love and friendship, I didn’t see as much kindness as on other days.” As I was tempted to lecture on the value of being kind, a little voice in my head wondered, are some kids feeling the additional pressure of these social interactions today? Could the focus on love, friendship, and kindness, actually be inspiring the opposite? Sometimes it takes a toll to live up to what others expect from us.

Then there is the emotional stressor caused by some additional tears today. From lost stickers to misplaced valentines to late arrivals to an inability to “find the bag I need,” today was a day where some children just needed that extra hug. They looked for it. They asked for it. It wasn’t about a day full of tears, but just those tiny, unexpected sobs, that I certainly noticed. 

After that there is the pro-social stressor: empathizing with how these children were feeling today, and feeling the additional strain as a result. For the child that was overwhelmed with the movement of the bags, I get it! When I saw the bags getting all bunched up together again, I had to resist the urge to go and separate them, and instead, ask children how they might be able to see them better. For the child that struggled with getting his big valentine into a little bag, I understand. As someone who still requires three to five attempts to get into a parking spot even when I see the lines, 🙂 spatial awareness skills continue to be an area for growth. I also looked at those little bags and wondered how they would hold everything, and while they did, it took students with much better packing skills than me to make that happen.

Finally, there is the cognitive stressor. For beginning readers and writers, Valentine’s Day can be a challenge. While we did encourage students to consider just signing their names to their cards, many added classmates’ names, and this made it an additional challenge. We watched some students ask multiple times, “What does this one say?” While we tried to encourage children to get help from each other, questions definitely came our way. Then, even when children can read the names, they need to find the right bag. This often means reading the name in a different font! The child that wrote our bags yesterday, added an exclamation mark at the end of each name — “because Valentine’s Day is just so exciting!” — but that caused some additional confusion today. Persevering to find each bag and distribute each valentine was a challenge for some, and as we tried to support them, I think that even inadvertently, it became a challenge for us.

It’s amazing how even standing back can be tiring. As I count down the minutes until I can head to bed tonight — and it may be even before 9:00 — I think about the stressors at play on a day that actually seemed quite calm. Think about your Valentine’s Day. Are you going home tired tonight? Why might that be? Could looking at the day through a Self-Reg lens provide some additional insight? Now for a deep breath, a good book, and some much-needed quiet time to end off another Valentine’s Day.