Can “Why” Change Things?

As I drove home from school on Friday, I did a lot of thinking about “little moments,” and the choices that we have to make a difference.

It all started on Friday morning, when an unexpected Ice Day resulted in us having two V.I.P.s (Very Important People/Special Helpers). Our V.I.P. always helps us do the count for our Turtle Island Welcome. My teaching partner, Paula, suggested that they count to three together, but then Carly chimed in with, “They could do six instead.” What a great idea! This was actually what they did. Instead of just leaving it at Carly’s suggestion though, Paula inquired more as to why Carly suggested six. A back-and-forth discussion between Paula and I, as well as our students, led to kids experimenting with different ways of making three, five, and six. We quickly saw that they were great with five and six, but found it more challenging to make the smaller number of “three.” Was that because there were fewer options on how to make three, or because they didn’t understand my suggestion? An unexpected, but wonderful, math talk has left us with something else to explore this week to find out for sure. Just think: if Paula never followed up with Carly, what learning might have been missed?

Fast forward then to First Nutrition Break, and my duty outside with the primary students. We were just lining up to come inside, when a child in Grade 3 came to tell me that another student hit him. I asked if he knew whom, and he pointed out a child that I know well. For the sake of this conversation, let’s call him Doug. Yes, this would not be Doug’s first hitting experience, but as Paula taught me, hitting is rarely unprovoked. Could there be more to this story? After we got inside, I went to talk to Doug. It turns out that this other child teased Doug about his LOL dolls, and he got upset, so he hit him. Is hitting right? No. But it also happened because of what preceded it. I asked Doug to come and talk to the other student with me, and he did. Through our discussion, the child that was hit came to understand why Doug hit him, and he apologized for saying what he did about the LOL dolls. Looking at Doug though, I could tell that he was still upset, so I asked him, “Do you want to go down to our kindergarten classroom and see Mrs. Crockett?” I knew that Paula would give him the hug and attention that he needed, and I knew how excited our students would be to see him. They love visitors! He quickly shook his head “yes,” and headed to our room. When the Break ended, I noticed him coming back just in time. His teacher then came by. I stopped the teacher at the door and explained what happened. The teacher asked me, “Did you send him to Mr. Gris? [the principal]” I said, “No. I sent him to Mrs. Crockett instead. I knew that he needed a change of space and a hug, and that she would offer both.” I think that my response was a little unexpected, but the teacher understood. I explained that if the child was finding it hard to adjust after what happened at recess — sometimes a negative experience can take him a while to recover from — that she was welcome to send him back to our class anytime. As I headed down the hall to our room, I thought about how this situation could have played out differently, if I just responded to the hitting allegation and didn’t investigate to find out more. This is what I would have done in the past, and again, I can thank Paula for changing my perspective.

Now comes the third — and final — experience of the day. It doesn’t play out in exactly the same way though. When I got back into the classroom, I started to spend time with different groups of kids. One of the last places that I went was the MakerSpace area. I noticed a couple of children sitting at the little table in there with a big jar of purple paint that they obviously mixed themselves over at the paint area and brought over here. They were painting pieces of paper. Just painting them purple. Why?? In retrospect, I know that I should have asked them this question, but I didn’t. Instead I asked, “Is this your best work?” They agreed that it wasn’t, so I suggested that they think of another way to use the purple paint. That was it for the paint discussion until after school on Friday when I shared my story with Paula. She said, “Didn’t they tell you that they were going to be like Matisse and paint papers just like he did?” What?! Paula’s words swirled in my head for the rest of my time at school and on my snowy drive home. I began to wonder …

  • Did they tell her this because she did ask “why?”
  • Could they have been doing this because we couldn’t go outside that morning due to the ice, and with the additional time inside, they needed the sensory experience that the painting provided? Was this self-regulating for them, and did I miss this?
  • If I did ask “why?,” and they had explained about Matisse, could I have gotten them to think/plan about how they might use these papers afterwards?

I missed a great learning opportunity here, and all because I assumed without asking. Lesson learned … or so I hope. I’d like to think that I will remember this experience when a similar one presents itself in the coming weeks or months, and that I will respond differently. One word — why? — can make such an incredible difference, but do we remember to always ask it? Do we listen to what kids — or adults — might say or do as a response? It’s often amazing how the situation, the individual, and/or the dialogue changes by taking the time to find out a little bit more.


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