What If We Reframed “Disturbing The Learning Of Others?”

At the beginning of August, I listened to the VoicEd Radio Program where Heather Swail and Paul McGuire were chatting with Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley about various posts from Ontario Edubloggers. They discussed one of my blog posts at the time. At around the 17 minute and 53 second mark, Paul made a comment that really got me thinking: “A child does not have the right to disturb the learning of others.” I was going to blog a response at the time, but I chose to wait. After various experiences in this first month of school, Paul’s comment and my thinking at the time (and now) inspired a post. 

I understand what Paul’s saying, and I would be lying if I said that I haven’t uttered these words — or similar ones — to administrators in the past. Even with my growing understanding of Self-Reg, I’ve reached different points of frustration. I’ve wondered if it really is possible to do it all. What impact are the behaviours of some children having on the entire classroom environment? Is this affecting my own mental health and well-being? What about the mental health and well-being of kids? But then, in the past couple of years, my thinking has started to change.

I’ve started to wonder, what message are we communicating (even unintentionally) to students, to parents, to administrators, and to colleagues, when we talk about “disturbing the learning of others?” To me, this statement implies that the behaviour is intentional. What if it’s not? I’m not going to pretend that it’s not still challenging when we’re dealing with these behaviours: from hitting and grabbing to throwing and screaming. I’ve dealt with my fair share of these problems over the years, and it’s hard. For kids. For educators. For parents. And for administrators. But at the beginning of last year, I started to think about just how much we can learn from THAT child, and how at times, all kids can be THAT kid

In the past couple of years, my teaching partner, Paula, and I have done a lot of thinking about THAT child. I think that this thinking has also changed our responses. 

  • We ask each other Stuart Shanker‘s questions of, “Why this child? Why now?,” more often, and we look at how to reduce the stressors that might be causing the behaviour. 
  • We try to model calm responses in our actions and in our toneThis isn’t always easy, and we’re not always perfect, but we try. 
  • We elicit the help of students if possible. Kids connect with kids on a different level, and children respond to their peers differently. When students are also involved in this problem solving, they often learn about the benefits of empathy, and see how much they can do to support each other. 

All week long, I watched what our kids — these young learners — did to support their peers.

Then yesterday, as children were coming in and joining our meeting time on the carpet, one child let out a scream. Another child accidentally touched him, and he was upset. Without prompting, one of our SK children that was sitting up front, turned to him, offered his hand, and said, “Why don’t you come up and sit next to me? That will make you feel better.” And with that, my heart melts. 

  • When we model not to be scared, kids aren’t scared.
  • When we show that the tears, the screams, and the hitting are unintentional and caused by stress, and that we can support a different response, kids do the same.

They see behaviour differently, just as we do. And in many of my experiences, with this additional child support, we also see a reduction in a lot of behaviours. I know that there are exceptions to every rule, and for some kids, maybe a different environment or additional support is necessary. But sometimes I wonder if our actions, our tone, our own fears, and our concerns about everyone else, inadvertently increases behaviour, even as we try to decrease it.  

This past week, I’ve watched what kids learn as they support peers that are struggling. This may not be academic learning, but it’s incredibly valuable learning! I think about one of our parents, who, when she drops off her child each morning, reminds her to “be kind.” This is her goal for the day, and what a wonderful goal it is. And every day, she goes out of her way to do exactly that. If, as a school system, we support children in developing kindness, empathy, and love, I think that then we’ve done a pretty marvellous job. Imagine how we could then change trajectories for kids. How do you support your children in doing just that? As a new week begins, we have another perfect opportunity to make a difference. Let’s also be there to show our children that they can do the same!


4 thoughts on “What If We Reframed “Disturbing The Learning Of Others?”

  1. I loves this post and has me thinking! I do try to support self-reg throughout the day and know that I need to self-regulate to help the kids. This is my first year in kindergarten (previously grade 1). I some. Holden who have possible mental health issues and some who are very young developmentally. At times, these kids make it hard to do a read aloud. I find that I start to lose the rest of the class while either supporting these kids or getting the EA to do an alternative activity with them. What do you do in these situations? Thanks, Laura

    • Thanks for your comment, Laura! I think that there’s value in questioning why these children are struggling. If it’s because they’re young developmentally, is the issue with taking in so much information orally? Would a different book allow them to be successful in a read aloud? How long is the read aloud? Is there a way to break it into shorter chunks? What are the kids doing that make it hard to do the read aloud? Sometimes we have kids that need to lie down, hold a fidget toy, or even do something small on the outside part of the carpet (e.g., create with plasticine) while a read aloud is taking place. When is the read aloud taking place? Would some movement options prior to the read aloud allow more kids to settle for it? This year, we noticed that showing a read aloud on the SMART Board really helps. We’ve recorded some books to share, and then play them in this alternative format. Would this be a possibility? You could even add planned questions into your reading. In the past, I’ve worked with a large group of children that were developmentally at the toddler level. Doing a read aloud with the full class was hard, as I was too far removed from the kids to support them. So I used to bring a book to the eating table, and do small group read alouds. This worked really well at the beginning of the year until kids were ready for more. I hope this helps! Would love to hear what you decide to do.


      • Thank you. I have used many of these strategies in grade one and I guess I am trying to find my way in doing it in kindergarten. I will need to meet with my team to make sure we are all on the same page. I have read many song books so far and these are more engaging for the “younger” ones. Maybe I could do one read aloud for SKs and one for JKs.

        • Thanks Laura! It looks as though you’re already considering some other options based on the kids you have. Do you have a teaching partner (RECE)? My teaching partner, Paula, has such a fantastic understanding of child development, and conversations around kids and needs, have really helped with planning. I wonder if the same could be true for you. Good luck!


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