“I Don’t Believe You”

So today I got a lot of writing done. I am determined to get a book done; I’ve been talking about it long enough. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback on Facebook for the topic of the book, and that is a good thing. I did start writing a book about six months ago, but what I was writing was way too much for me to start out with. This one is a lot simpler, and it seems to be coming together fairly well so far. I’m under no illusions when it comes to how long it will take me to get this book put together. I know it takes awhile, and I’m sure that I’ll learn a lot along the way. I’m always up for a good challenge, and I’ve always wanted to write a book.

While I was on the playground today I was listening to another teacher discussing a situation with a child. I’m not sure what the child actually did, but the teacher asked the child about it and the child explained what happened, and then the unexplainable happened: the teacher told the child “I don’t believe you.” I couldn’t really believe that I had heard that; I can understand not believing every word that comes out of a child’s mouth, especially if the child feels that there is a threat of punishment involved. However, to actually tell a child that you don’t believe them?

Think about it this way: Imagine that you are telling someone that you trust a story about something that happened, and they say that they don’t believe you. How do you feel then? Inconsequential? Like the story didn’t even matter? Like they don’t even trust you? How do you build a relationship on that? Working with children requires that we build relationships with them with mutual trust on both sides. If a child is telling you something untrue, then that means that they don’t trust you with the truth. And if you tell them that you don’t believe them, that isn’t going to repair the trust issues that are present. It is only going to make it worse.

I try really hard to make sure that there aren’t these trust issues in my classroom. I don’t use punishment at all. We talk through things until we figure out what happened and we figure out solutions to problems. I try to approach situations with as little judgment as possible so that children feel safe telling me the truth. Lying comes from fear, usually from fear of punishment. If you take away the fear of punishment then lying stops.

So how do you make sure that children know right from wrong without punishment? That is a question that I always get asked, and I just answered while writing my book today. Maybe my next post will be an excerpt.

Mindfulness on the Playground

The word “mindfulness” has been thrown about quite a bit in the education field lately. Usually people use it to talk about meditation in the classroom and giving children a chance to experience the stillness of that but to me, mindfulness means something much greater to me. Being mindful means being aware of yourself in relation to others and being aware of others – aware of their feelings and their physical presence. It means being aware of your own emotions and how they affect you throughout your day. That is a lot for a young child to handle, and every day is a new lesson in what it means to be mindful.

Yesterday I was watching several boys playing on the playground. They had tipped a wheelbarrow over onto its side and they were throwing rocks at it. Each time a rock hit the wheelbarrow it made a loud, satisfying sound. I enjoyed watching the boys as they threw their rocks at that wheelbarrow because they seemed to really be enjoying their sound effects.


wheelbarrow strategically on its side

And then it happened. Since the boys were throwing rocks at the wheelbarrow, they eventually had to retrieve their rocks so that they could throw them again. One boy went to retrieve his rock just as another boy was throwing his, and it hit him in the head. Luckily, it wasn’t a big rock; otherwise this story would have a much different ending. But it was big enough that the boy started crying, prompting me to go over to him and ask him what was wrong (as if I hadn’t been watching their play). As if sensing the gravity of the situation and anticipating getting into really big trouble, the other boys scattered as soon as I came near them. I comforted the boy with the hurting head and called the others back over to me, explaining that no one was in trouble, but that I really needed them to watch out for their friends’ bodies when they get ready to throw a rock. No one wants to be hit by a rock, and getting hit by a rock hurts! I prompted them to make sure that their friend was okay, and then I coached them on how to look and make sure that no one was standing in between their rock and the wheelbarrow before they threw the rock.

Rocks ripe for throwing

Rocks ripe for throwing

This seems like a very counter-intuitive way to handle a situation where boys are throwing objects that could very well be deemed extremely dangerous. After all, someone could seriously get hurt by a thrown rock. Someone did get hurt. But the boys had been throwing rocks for five minutes before someone got hurt. Five minutes is a long time when you are talking about boys throwing and retrieving rocks. The rock that hit the boy was not thrown with malice; it hit the boy by mistake which created a learning experience for all of us.

That is what we need to be aware of when we look at different situations around the classroom and outside: what is the intent of the child. If the intent had been to hurt someone by throwing a rock at them, then I would have stopped the game and directed the children to something else. This was not the case, so there was no reason why the boys could not continue their game. They just had to be aware that they needed to look out for the other boys when they threw a rock at the wheelbarrow. Throwing rocks isn’t an activity that I endorse simply for the pleasure of throwing a rock, but these boys had another end entirely in mind: they wanted to hear the sound that the rock made when it hit the wheelbarrow. Because of that, I felt that there was no need to stop an activity that had such an innocuous goal. A little while later another teacher on the playground commented that the boys should not be throwing rocks and the game was ended. But valuable lessons were learned with the freedom to throw those rocks: the sound they make against metal, and the fact that they can hurt people so we need to be careful with them. Wise mindfulness lessons, indeed.

Changing Mindsets Part 4: Take a Step Back and Connect

In my last post  I talked about using observation to discover the reasons why children exhibit problem behaviors. In this post we will discuss making a connection with the child. I understand that it may be hard to connect with a child whose behaviors have been so frustrating and have caused so much tension in the classroom, but this step is vital to changing our mindset about classroom behaviors. The observation process is very helpful in this regard, as it shows the teacher exactly what is happening to trigger the problem behavior. With this information in hand, it is easier to try to make a positive connection with the child because you are able to see that the behavior has a reason behind it. So for Step Seven:

  • Think about your situation with the child. What do you want the child to learn or to do? For example, if the child is hitting other children, you could say, “I want this child to use his words to solve problems instead of hitting,” or “I want this child to put his toys away at clean up time instead of throwing them across the room.”

Now you have reframed the situation. Before you were only focused on the problem behavior, which usually leads to punishment and frustration. Now you are focused on what the child needs to learn, which leads to teaching. That brings us to Step Eight:

  • Based on how you reframed the situation, what can you teach this child that will help them be successful? This can be as simple as, “I can teach this child which words to use in order to solve his social problems,” or “I can teach this child where each toy belongs so that he does not feel so stressed during the clean up transition.”

Up to this point, this problem behavior has caused a lot of anxiety and frustration in the classroom. It is important that you create a plan for staying calm during these situations. This child is watching you during these moments and the calmer you are, the calmer the child will be. The situation may not end as smoothly as you would like, but you will both be calmer. So for Step Nine:

  • Think about your reactions up to this point and write down what you will do differently during the next situation with this child. What can you do to stay calm in the heat of the moment? How can you use this situation to teach rather than punish?

More information will be given about stress-management and calming techniques in a later post.

These action steps are adapted from Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey. To return to Step Six, click here.  For Steps Four and Five click here. For Steps One, Two and Three click here.

In my next post we will begin discussing the stress response.

Changing Mindsets Part 3: Observing Classroom Behaviors

In my last two posts I have covered the first five steps that teachers can take to help change their mindset about classroom behaviors. In this post I will focus on the sixth step. These steps are adapted from Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey.

Step #6: Observe and Understand

The key to changing our mindset about problem behaviors is reframing the intent of the child. For example, if there is a child in your class who constantly hits other children, it is easy to say, “This child is bad,” or “This child just wants to hit for no reason.” Reframing involves observing the child to understand exactly why this child hits. Maybe another child is taking toys from them. Maybe the child feels threatened whenever another child comes near them. It is important to observe so that we can understand as much about what is going on with the child as possible.

When you have a behavioral situation that causes a lot of stress in the classroom, it can be hard to take a step back and simply watch what is going on. Teachers have been conditioned to believe that if there is no punishment happening for bad behavior, then nothing has been done to correct the problem. However, punishing a child for hitting does not teach them why they should not hit, and it does not get to the root of the problem, which is why they are hitting in the first place. Asking yourself these “why” questions can help you begin to reframe the situation and the behavior.

After you have asked yourself why, it is time to find out. The best way to find out why a child behaves a certain way is to watch them and their interactions with others. When observing, it is important to write down what you see so that you can refer back to what you have seen and discover patterns in behavior. Writing down the time that the behavior occurred can also reveal patterns, especially if separate observations are done on separate days. Does the child become more aggressive around lunch time because of the many transitions involved in sitting down to lunch? Or maybe it is because he is tired? Writing down the time while observing behavior can lead to many insights that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Write down as much as possible about the behavior of the child and the children that he/she interacts with. It is okay not to write down every single thing, because at some point you will have to look up to see what is going on in between writing. Through practice you will likely develop your own short-hand, which will make it easier to record more information. When the child exhibits the problem behavior during your observation, you may already have seen why the behavior happened. Be sure to write down that the behavior happened so that you can refer back to it later. It may also be a good idea to allow a co-teacher handle the misbehavior so that you can continue observing the situation. That will make it easier for you to see the progression of behavior after the problem behavior is handled, as well.

Why is this important? We have talked about fight-or flight and what that means. Sometimes teachers can trigger a fight-or-flight response by how they react to a behavior. For example, if our child that has been hitting is hitting because another child has taken a toy from them, and we punish the hitting but do nothing about the toy that was taken away (because our focus is solely on the hitting and not on why the hitting took place) then the child that was hitting will likely continue to stay in fight-or-flight because his stress has actually increased. This may lead to even more aggressive behavior that may seem to be “for no reason,” when the actual reason is because they are still upset about their toy. Situations like this are common in classrooms with two-year-olds or other children who have not developed the verbal skills to articulate what has happened in their social interactions. After observing the child in action, you should be able to determine why their behavior is taking place.

Your action steps for Step Six:

  • Ask yourself why the child is exhibiting the problem behavior.
  • Observe the child to see if you can discover the answer.

In my next post I will discuss using this observation to make a positive connection with the child. To return to Steps Four and Five, click here. To return to the first three steps, click here.

Changing Mindsets Part 2

In the last post, we discussed how important it is to change your mindset when it comes to children’s behaviors. We also worked on three action steps that can help you change your mindset when you become stressed or angry. In this post we will look at two more action steps that will build on the answers that you gave in the previous action steps. These action steps are adapted from the Conscious Discipline program by Dr. Becky Bailey.

  • Step Four: Identify the action that the child does that causes you to feel stress. Does the child:
    • Throw toys?
    • Run around the classroom?
    • Hit other classmates?
    • Bite other students?
    • Some other action?
  • Step Five: Recognize what your actions are when you become upset. What do you feel inclined to do when you are upset? A good place to start is to fill in the blanks in this statement:
    • While upset, my inclination is to punish by ________________ or get the child to feel bad by _______________ or to blame ________________.

In the next post, we will focus on Step Six. To return to the first three steps, click here.

The Hierarchy of Change

One key to unlocking the secrets of effective classroom management is realizing that there are many pieces of the classroom puzzle that a teacher can change. However, the child is not one of them. The Hierarchy of Change shows different elements of the classroom that teachers can change in order to realize a less stressful classroom environment. The Hierarchy of Change looks like this:

Hierarchy of Change with Header



The Hierarchy of Change lists items according to their importance. Thus, while it may be easier to change the classroom environment, it is more important to change the teacher’s mindset first. Because teachers can’t change the student, the student is listed at the bottom of the diagram.

So what does it mean to change teacher mindset? In previous posts I have discussed how our brain reacts to stress, and that is something that will be covered more in future posts. One way you can change your mindset is by realizing that there may be more going on with a situation than you can tell at first glance. For instance, if a child is hitting another child, our automatic reaction is to punish the child that is doing the hitting. However, what if the child that he was hitting had taken a toy from him or hurt him first in some way? Changing our mindset means understanding that social situations are complicated in any situation, and in order to teach children how to navigate their own social setting, we have to be willing to get to the bottom of negative social interactions in order to help children repair relationships. In fact, changing your mindset means that you need to shift from a punishment mentality to a teaching mentality when it comes to any situation in the classroom. There are several other ways that you can change your mindset, and these will be covered in future posts.

Changing the environment means making it more engaging and more open to the exploration that children enjoy. Children are naturally curious, and children love moving. One of the ways that we can change the environment is to allow children to satisfy their curiosity more often and allow them the opportunities to move that they need. More will be covered on this in future posts.

Changing how we implement curriculum is probably one of the hardest pieces of this hierarchy to change, especially if you work in a school or childcare center that has a very specifically defined curriculum. However, you should familiarize yourself with the ways in which children learn best and use that knowledge to teach lessons in a way that is engaging, fun, and connects learning to the real world. More will be covered about how you can adapt lessons and make them more engaging and fun in future posts.


Building Positive Relationships: Teachers Make Mistakes, Too

I read something about mistakes and consequences the other day that made me think back to an incident that has happened countless times in my classroom, usually at lunch or snack time. I will be pouring milk and I will inevitably spill some on the counter or the floor. After this happens, the children start going nuts, talking about how I made a mess.

Of course, this all comes back to stigmatizing mess and mistakes. Everyone makes a mess at some point, and if you are anything like me, you make a mess several times a day. But the key is to clean it up and move on.

So I model this for the children. If we make a mess, we simply clean it up and move on. Since I have been working with two-year-olds, messes happen on a continuous basis. We simply clean it up. They clean up their messes. Sometimes they even clean up messes that aren’t even there. One child was wiping a wall in the bathroom, and I asked him, “Are you cleaning the wall?” To which he replied, “Yes, I am wiping your clean wall.”

Recently I helped out in a different classroom and a child spilled their milk. It was treated as a capital offense, and the child lost it. I instructed her to get some paper towels to clean up the mess, and she cried for half an hour. Over spilled milk. I haven’t seen anything like it in my classroom, so it was a bit unnerving to watch the process of this child go through what looked like humiliation over a cup of milk. I never want to see it again.

Messes happen. All of our lives we will be cleaning up messes. If you are anything like me, your house has several messes that need to be cleaned up right now but this blog post is a convenient way to postpone the inevitable. Teaching children that messes are a part of life that need to be cleaned up in order to move on is a life skill that we should be cultivating. Messes should not be treated as a punishable offense; if they were, we would all be punished, because we all make mistakes. What we should do instead is teach children the skills needed to make less mess. Pouring proficiency only happens with practice. Depth perception is only cultivated if we use the skill. Hand-eye coordination happens when we practice. And we can all use this practice. After all, teachers make mistakes, too.

Building Positive Relationships: How Observing Children Strengthens Relationships

My post yesterday about Six Uses for Observation really got me thinking about how I use observation in the classroom. Observation seriously is one of the foundations of my teaching practice. There are several reasons for this, most of which are outlined in yesterday’s post. But one of the most important reasons is that it can change the way you look at children. Sometimes it isn’t even the way you look at children in general. Sometimes it is the way you look at one specific child.

I recently wrote a post about how we as adults are slow to change our views about something. We think we know it all because we have been around a while and we take that knowledge for granted. We forget that sometimes it is important to slow down and try to see things from a different perspective. This is where observation comes in. If we just take a moment to slow down and observe a child in action, we may see something that is contrary to our previous view of the child. We may begin to attribute positive intent to the child’s actions rather than negative intent. If we open ourselves up to the possibility that there may be more going on with the child than we are presently aware of, we may find that to be the case. And if we find that to be the case, our view of that child can change dramatically.

I know a lot of teachers out there shake their heads and roll their eyes when I say that children don’t do things without a reason. But the reason why I say this frequently and with authority is that I have done enough observing of children to know it to be true. The only way that we will be able to know or try to understand the intent of a young child is to observe for ourselves. And even older children may not tell us their intent because they are more worried about getting in trouble because of their actions related to their intent. Observation has allowed me to truly be able to decipher the intent of children and come up with productive ways to deal with behavior in a non-punitive way.

Let’s put this in context: Let’s pretend that you decided to try a different format for circle time because you felt that it would hold the children’s interest better than your current format. Your administrator walks in and wonders what the heck is going on and tells you in no uncertain terms that she does not like the new format and she doesn’t want to see it again. And doesn’t listen to your explanation of why you did it. How would that make you feel? The administrator paid absolutely no attention to your intent, only to your actions. That is what we do with children when we do not try to figure out their intent.

I have had children display physical behavior simply because they want to play with other children but do not know how to approach them. I have had children hit or even bite others because they have issues with personal space. There are a myriad of reasons why children behave the way they do. And this isn’t just about children’s behavior related to other children. It can be related to the way children use materials, as well. I have had children drag chairs into the block area because they have built a television and want to “watch” it. I have had children bossing other children around, only to find out that one is pretending to be a baby and one is pretending to be a mommy, or – even more amusing – one is pretending to be a dog and the other is pretending to be the owner. I have had a house that the class built in the middle of the floor turn into a swimming pool in an instant, and everyone’s shoes and socks become strewn about in order to wade in the pool. I have had countless scenarios happen in the classroom, and the only way to sort it all out without hurting many feelings and tapping into my punitive side is to slow down and observe what is going on.

So how does this strengthen relationships? Well, as I pointed out at the beginning of the post, it changes the way you look at children. You begin to see what they are thinking about, what they are interested in, what they need to learn on an individual basis (as opposed to what the class is learning as dictated by the lesson plan), and you simply get to know the children in your class on a more personal level. If observation happens frequently enough, it helps to form a direction that the class can take in order to achieve the maximum amount of learning possible, because the ideas of the children are present – because you know what they are. In short, it helps you to get to know the children in your classroom better. And that helps you to deal with the children in your class positively, which strengthens and enhances your relationship with them, and their relationships with each other.

strengthen relationships

Does Creativity Peak At Age Seven?

I have wondered this for a very long time. Is that why adults do not view themselves as creative – it peaked long ago?

This question hits me at home presently. I have a seven year old daughter who is extremely creative. She draws pictures and makes up stories about them, and they are truly original and ingenious. She is heavily into My Little Pony right now, so a lot of times her stories involve ponies that she has drawn. Sometimes they are ponies from the series and sometimes she makes up her own ponies. But the creativity involved in her stories is truly breath-taking.

Since I started becoming interested in creativity, I have wondered why adults feel that they aren’t creative. A few years ago, I was actually one of them. I wondered if I could change my mindset and actually become creative again. I wasn’t sure. I wanted to figure out why.

My research has pointed more and more to education and the way children are taught as being key to why people don’t view themselves as creative. Children are taught as they are sitting at a desk. Younger children are allowed to sit on a carpet sometimes, but for the most part they are sitting. And they are tasked with listening to the teacher talk to them, most of the time. I actually heard one of my daughter’s former teachers call her class “chatter monsters” when they were trying to get their ideas heard over her. And the context of the experience that they were having left much to be desired as well. All of the children were sitting on a carpet that clearly was not big enough for all of them to sit together comfortably. They were packed on this carpet. Needless to say, it took about five minutes for the pushing to stop as the teacher threatened the children with some type of punishment if they did not behave. Then we had the chatter monsters. The teacher handed the children individual whiteboards, markers, and socks to use as erasers, and then told them what to write. Any children who were not writing what she said or were writing when she hadn’t told them what to write or were writing something different than what she said were punished. (The punishment, by the way, was taking away coins that were used to earn a trip to the treasure box on Fridays). There was no creativity involved in the activity and no opportunity for children to express themselves. The whole time that I volunteered that day, it was the same thing. All of the activities were cut and dry with no chance for individual expression. Worksheets and sitting, no talking out of turn, nothing but what the worksheet or the teacher wanted done.

Joseph Berk, in his article about engineers that I featured yesterday, stated that he thought that the rules that are in place during school is what causes creativity to peak so early. While I partially agree with him, rules are needed in society in order to keep things running safely. (We could get into a discussion about government and overreach into society here, but this isn’t the time or the place; we are focused on education. However, if you want to assert your own creativity, we can have a discussion about that in the comments.) There is such a thing as rules becoming too restraining, however, and this can definitely affect creativity. Requiring children to sit together in a tight space without pushing or touching anyone else is simply asking for trouble. Making children learn academic information within a prescribed box (worksheets, flashcards) is a sure way to suck the creativity right out of a child. When children are not allowed to express themselves, and are in fact punished for doing so, they soon learn to not be creative. And since the majority of people feel that creativity peaks at age seven, learning to not be creative happens very quickly – within two years of starting school. With at least eleven more years of school left, creativity would seem to not have a chance.

In thinking about that last sentence, my thoughts ran back to my years in high school. Every high school has their cliques, and mine was no different. But my mind came back to the people that I began to associate with in my later high school years. They were most likely in an extracurricular music class or in drama. They were the ones that drew insanely awesome pictures during class and knew how to not get caught doing it. They had conversations in class, trying to figure out who was the greatest guitar player that ever lived. These were the kids who were creative for creativity’s sake. I envied those kids because their attitude about school was entirely different than mine. I envied the musicians because they were so creative that they could jam and improvise, and I couldn’t. I was strictly and literally a textbook musician, and I was that way when it came to school as well. I still am when it comes to school. But in learning more about different facets of our education system, I have allowed myself to be more creative in the classroom. And this, in turn, has allowed me to let my children be more creative as well.

It has also allowed me to look at my daughter and realize that I need to do everything I can to provide her a place where she can feel free to create her stories and her pictures, to find an outlet for these stories that she seems to spontaneously come up with. She needs to have a place where she can hone that creative skill so that it will not die in the eleven years of school she has left. My older daughter shows me that she still has creativity all of the time, letting me know that I have not failed her in that way – not yet. She is actually planning on becoming an engineer, and I see little pieces of what Joseph Berk was talking about when she talks about her work in her architecture classes. But she is passionate and creative and hopefully won’t lose that as she learns all of the rules and regulations involved in engineering.

And me? My outlet is this blog, and my classroom. I find myself being insanely creative in my classroom, and I have a class of wonderful children whose creativity inspire it in me. It is almost like we feed each other. I enjoy giving them a creative outlet, because in three or four years, when they start elementary school, they may not have that outlet any more. But the more I foster their creative little minds now, the better chance they may have later.

Lincoln High School in Walla Walla Tries New Approach to School Discipline

I am a huge advocate for treating children with respect. I have done a lot of posts about punishment in the classroom. I have talked on and on about how Conscious Discipline works for me in my classroom. I am even developing my own discipline system geared more toward preschool aged children.

This story caught my eye tonight, and it is well worth the read. It is kind of long, but I want you to see the transformation that this high school made – and why it made it. It contains the science behind the method, and how it works.