Connect With Your Values

Values are beliefs about life that people hold. These beliefs cause people to act certain ways consistently. The values that you hold affect your teaching style, as well as how you interact with students. Identifying your values can help you focus your energy and your passion. Creating focus can help you illuminate goals that you want to pursue for your classroom and get you on the right track to obtaining those goals. When I defined my core values several years ago I found that creativity and natural curiosity were very important to me. My mission became finding ways to bring creativity out and allow for the children to satisfy their natural curiosity in safe, productive ways. Identifying and defining these values opened up a whole new world when it came to communicating with children and providing them with unique, creative learning opportunities.

So how about you? What are the values that are important to you? How do you define them?

The first step to defining your values is to define who you are at your best, so take a moment and think about who you are when you are at your best.

Now think of someone that you deeply respect. What are three qualities that this person possesses that you admire the most?

Now you are going to define your values. It takes about five core values to create a foundation for a great teaching practice. Pick your five from the list below:

Authenticity Happiness Balance
Harmony Caring Enthusiasm
Joyfulness Justice Flexibility
Cooperation Courtesy Honor
Beauty Commitment Health
Compassion Honesty Humor
Integrity Courage Reliability
Love Orderliness Creativity
Empathy Kindness Knowledge
Excellence Loyalty Openness
Fairness Faith Perseverance
Respect Family Peacefulness
Truthfulness Self-Discipline Tolerance
Freedom Friendship Responsibility
Security Generosity Genuineness
Service. Serenity Self-care
Gratitude Patience Trust
Prayerfulness Reverence Mercy
Self-Expression Gentleness Bravery
Discovery Energy Community
Community Connection Practicality
Individuality Fearlessness Imagination
Control Depth Encouragement
Challenge Calmness Serenity
Playfulness Change Strength
Gratitude

After choosing five core values, can you identify the one that is the most important to you?

When you have decided which value is the most important to you, it is time to make it you yours – you need to own it! Explore this value and what it has to offer. Find out what the definition of the word is, and look up quotes from people who have talked about your value. Doing this will help bring this value into greater focus in your mind, and will help make your path clear. After you have done some research into your value, write down what your value means to you and why it is important to you. Really take the time to identify with this core value, because this will become the foundation for the next section in the R.E.S.P.E.C.T.ful Classroom Management series.

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Let Them Be

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to some of the teachers that I worked with at my old school. We had a great time talking and catching up, since it has been about a month and a half since I have seen any of them. They are all doing well, and I was glad to hear about how their lives have been since I left.

One of the things that we talked about was different types of teachers. “There’s the paper pusher,” said one girl. “And there’s the nurturer. And the by-the-book teacher.”

I really didn’t want to sound like I was fishing, but I wanted to know. “Which one do you think I am? I am definitely not the by-the-book teacher. And I’m not the paper pusher. And I’ve never really felt all that nurturing.”

“Oh, you are definitely the nurturer,” they assured me. “You let the kids be kids. You let them explore and play and enjoy childhood. And you let them experience independence, even if you have to get on the case of other teachers to do it!” One of the girls told a story about how she had attempted to help a child carry a bowl of milk to the sink, saying that he was getting it all over the floor. “Then he will clean it up!” I had snapped at her. That was toward the end of my tenure there, and I was really stressed out at the time. But one of the things that I have always tried to teach children is that messes aren’t a bad thing. We clean them up and we move on. But if that boy hadn’t had the experience carrying his own bowl of milk, he wouldn’t have had that practice balancing objects or developing his hand-eye coordination. A few drops of milk spilled is worth the development of those precious skills.

I had just had a talk with a co-teacher at my new school about children and letting them be. She was worried about how the children in the class were going to be when they got to kindergarten, because they were acting crazy at the time. “You can’t worry about how these children are going to be when they are in kindergarten,” I told her. “They are three years old. Right now we have to let them be three years old. If we worry about how they are going to be in kindergarten, and worry about getting them ready for that, then we are taking away their chance to experience being three.”

I believe in letting children be. I believe that their time is now, and we have to let them be what they are right now. Does that mean that we should not teach them, with an eye toward the future? No, it doesn’t. We can teach them, but not to the detriment of where they are now.

This brings new light to the yoga wisdom ‘be present’. To me it says that we need to be aware of where we are right now. But as a teacher, it also says that we need to be aware of where the children are right now, and we need to remember that, no matter what they have coming in a month, six months, a year, or two years from now, we need to meet them at this present time and enjoy where they are right now, in this moment. We need to bring our present selves to enjoy their present selves.

It also brings to mind the call of emergent curriculum advocates to capitalize on the current interests of the child. Children are interested in exploring different aspects of life, and their interests can take your teaching in unexpected directions. I have always loved the spontaneity of emergent curriculum because I never know what we are going to be learning about. Learning winds down unanticipated roads, and I confess to learning many new things simply by doing research into the areas of interest that the children in my class exhibited. This is ‘being present’ at its finest: paying attention and observing the children to the point that their interests are plain to you, and then planning lessons based on what you have observed.

In both cases of being present, we are being respectful of who the child is and letting them be that person. I believe that teachers should have respect for the unique individuals that come into our classrooms, and should not try to force that uniqueness to conform to our ideas of what is ‘good’ or ‘right’. I am not saying that we should let children get away with hurting others or acting out-of-control. There are respectful ways to teach children how to respect others around them. What I am talking about is not forcing children to constantly do what we want them to do, but let them do and learn the things that they want. They will learn more that way, and they will grow to love learning. We need to let them explore, let them grow, and let them be who they are. And most of all, we need to be present with them through all of that.

My New Adventure: Day One

I started my new adventure today, teaching at a new school. I have been wanting to teach at this school for a while because the educational philosophy of the school is very closely aligned with  my own. It has never worked out until now, and I am very excited to be a part of a new school community.

My first impressions of the school were made when I was sitting in the parking lot waiting for the time to come for me to go to work. There were kids already out on the playground, this early! And what a playground it was; this was the first place I visited during my day. The playground has gardens, loose parts, a sand pit, and many other wonderful features. Children are encouraged to engage and explore all of the elements of the playground, and generally aren’t held back in any way. It was a wonderful sight to see.

The classroom was pretty typical, which surprised me. After looking at the wonderful playground I guess I expected more, but the teachers are wonderful. Respectful and calm, inviting and engaging, they acted every bit the teachers that I have been wanting to work with my entire career. The lead teacher and I had a wonderful conversation about how the class flows and what to expect, and she let me know that she is open to collaboration and working together. She also said that she is not that familiar with how to approach the project approach of teaching, so this may very well be a journey that we can go on together. I am looking forward to it.

The Power of “Why”

I am putting the finishing touches on my Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom local workshop. The online version won’t be available for some time yet, as I am still learning the ins-and-outs of putting together an online course.

The information that I am focusing on right now deals with classroom management and how it relates to the expression of creativity in the classroom. I wrote a note to myself in the initial outline draft about the power of “why” in the classroom. This is not a new idea on this blog. I believe that children, like adults, have the power to reason. Their ability to reason is not as mature as adults – they may come up with some off-the-wall reasons for some things. But they come up with reasons – they understand that behaviors and outcomes have reasons behind them – especially when we ask the word “why”. Why do we not run around the classroom? Why do we not jump on the bed? Why do we not write on the walls or the furniture? Why do we not throw toys?

“Why” is an important word to give reason to children, but it is also important for teachers as well. I have had many instances where I have been telling the children to do something (or, in most cases, not to do something) and my brain all the sudden stops me and asks me “Why are you asking them to stop? Is there a safety issue involved? Is someone going to get hurt? No – really – is someone going to get hurt?” Although this is not going to become a post about risk-taking, the question is very important for that reason. How much risk am I comfortable with them taking, as the one who is responsible for their safety? But most importantly, why am I asking them to stop? Control? Power? And if I am asking them to stop, what is the reason that I am going to give them? Trust me, children will be more liable to stop if they have a logical reason – a because that makes sense to them. Simply asking or telling a child to stop is an arbitrary command to them. You may have a perfectly valid reason for asking them to stop doing what they are doing, but they will not know that if you don’t tell them.

The “Because” is just as important as the “Why”

“Because I said so” is not a reason. It may be perfectly valid to you, as the teacher, because the child is supposed to listen to you and follow your direction. But the reason why they are supposed to follow your direction is because it is your job to keep them safe and teach them how to live safely and productively in this world. Simply giving them “Because I said so” as a reason for not doing something does not teach them anything about how you are trying to keep them safe or productive. It becomes an arbitrary command from you to them. How often do you want to follow a command that someone else gives you, without being given the reason for why you are being commanded? If someone continuously commands you without reason, you begin to feel disrespected – and even unsafe. If you feel like your life or work becomes subject to the arbitrary whims of someone else, it isn’t a place that you really want to be in any more, is it? You never know what is coming next, or why you are being picked on in this way. Because that is what it ends up feeling like – like you are being picked on.

Giving a valid reason for asking a child to do something is giving the child the same respect that you deserve. And all children deserve that respect as much as we do. Not only is it respectful, but it continues the lessons about actions having reasons – an important lesson to learn. People become goal-driven as they get older (and this starts at a young age), and teaching children the power of “why” and “because” helps them to realize that every action has a purpose and every purpose brings us closer to a goal. And in our quest to bring creativity to the classroom, it helps us put children and ourselves on the path toward realizing just how creative our classroom can be.

Building Positive Relationships: The Three Areas of Classroom Management

The other morning I was going through a brainstorming session, wondering what to write about next. I have been doing a lot of writing about observation lately, and because I use observation for so many different aspects of the classroom I began to think about it in terms of classroom management. And then I began to think about the big picture of classroom management.

Let me first just say that I hate the term “classroom management”. I only use it because that is the going term these days within the education community for how to get the class to accomplish what you want to accomplish with the least amount of behavior problems possible. I prefer the term “Building Positive Relationships” because that is what I do. I don’t necessarily manage. I hate feeling like I am “managing” the classroom. The children don’t seem to appreciate it that much either.

So what do I do? Well, a few years ago I realized that there are several elements that are involved in dictating a child’s behavior. These elements work together to define the atmosphere of the classroom, which helps define the behavior of the children in it.

1. The Teacher

The teacher is probably the biggest factor influencing the behavior in the classroom. The way that the teacher reacts to behavior, how she/he conducts lessons, and how she/he interacts with the children sets the tone of the classroom. If the teacher is very overbearing and likes to micro-manage children, this will affect the mood and tone much differently than if she/he is more easy-going and flexible in the classroom.

How the teacher views children is usually evident by how they handle these different aspects of the classroom. In workshops and in talking to colleagues, I strongly encourage teachers to take a step back and really think about how they view individual children, as well as their class as a group. The attitudes that we feel about the children manifest themselves in our actions and reactions in the classroom, and impact the tone and mood of the class.

2. The Child

We all know that children come into the classroom with their own temperaments, their own baggage, and their own way of wanting to do things. Kids are kids. Kids like to move around, question everything, and experiment with life. These are things that we need to remember when we think about behavior in the classroom. I am actually working on a workshop right now that talks about the nature of children and how we view them. Want to see what I have so far?

RESPECT

 

It really is another post for another time, but it outlines different aspect of not just children, but people. All people have these different needs or qualities about them, and we need to remember that children have them, too. These different needs and qualities enter the classroom with the child, and every child has differences in the degree and kind of these needs and qualities. The mix that results is different in every classroom, and teachers need to be aware and structure the environment and atmosphere accordingly.

3. The Environment

I mentioned in a previous post that I do not view the classroom environment as a static entity. This does not mean that I move desks or tables around once a week – although that does help. The exploratory items in the classroom – from the manipulatives to the art selections to the blocks are ever changing and evolving to fit the interests and needs of the children in the classroom. This helps keep the calm as children explore new things (although the first few minutes of excitement over new items is kind of crazy) and keeps the children engaged. Playing or working with the same items over and over again in the same ways can get boring – we all know that – so we should change things up in the classroom, or provide new ways to experiment with old items.

These three areas can always be broken down into smaller elements, such as how the different areas of the classroom can be arranged so as to stimulate curiosity and excitement, or how to react when a child does X, Y, or Z. This post is intended to be an outline to get teachers thinking about the big picture and how it all works together. Sometimes I think that it is important to step back and remember the big pictures in the classroom, and reflect on our place in that big picture.

Building Positive Relationships: How Being A Facilitator Changes Relationships

Building-PositiveI feel like I have been beating the concept of facilitator vs. teacher to death, but the practice of learning with children instead of teaching to them has so many positive benefits, one being an increase in creative thought, that I can’t let it go quite yet. Writing about this topic has had me picking up books that I haven’t read in a while. And the idea of a facilitator has ramifications for more than just education. The website that I quoted from in the last Reframing post was directed toward business leaders, meaning that businesses can benefit from this approach as well.

The website itself discusses the reasons that businesses can benefit from this approach:

Facilitation offers everyone in the group the chance to express their ideas and to feel as if they are part of a team. Since the group arrives at a mutual conclusion, it’s easier for individual members to carry out the group’s goals and to feel less inclined to work on individual agendas. A facilitator helps individuals build on their skills and learn new ones. Facilitation serves as a positive way to resolve conflicts and clarify misunderstandings among a diverse group of individuals.

In Developing Constructivist Early Childhood Curriculum, the authors define a key principle of constructivist education as that which creates a “cooperative sociomoral atmosphere in which mutual respect is continually practiced.” (36)

Being a facilitator in a classroom instead of a teacher changes the nature of relationships because children and teachers work together to solve many different types of problems, including social and moral issues. They are not pitted against each other in a struggle of power, but work together to keep the classroom safe and productive.

How does this happen? When have you ever seen teachers and students work together? It has been rare that I have seen it, but I know that it exists. And I know that a classroom that runs this way is more respectful of the needs of every member of the class, because the teacher is respectful of every member of the class. A class that runs this way evolves into a close-knit family, one in which each member can positively contribute – and they know it.

The Key to Respect

respectIn one of the classes that I am taking this semester, the question was asked: “What do you think are necessary attitudes for being an effective teacher?” I wrote that the biggest, most important attitude a teacher should have in the classroom is one of respect, followed by patience and flexibility. I received this response:

“I also think that respect is important but I also think that you need to be in control and not be ran over. I have seen an incident where an aide asked a child to sit down and stop playing and the child said, ‘What about my rights as a kid? Adults think they are so much better.’ There are children the respect can be given because it is earned. I wish they were all that way.”

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that response is going to rub me the wrong way. But it brings up an important distinction that I believe needs to be made, especially in the world of discipline.

Respect, as defined by dictionary.com, is “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.” This is not to be confused with assertiveness, which dictionary.com defines as “being confidently aggressive or self-assured; positive.”

Respect is showing someone that you value them as a person. It means valuing them enough to try to make an emotional connection with them. It means valuing their emotions enough to try to find the root cause of any altercation so that the issue can be completely resolved in the minds of both children, whether they were the initial aggressor or not. It means valuing their intelligence enough to know that any request that has as its reason: “because I said so” or “because I am the teacher” is going to rub children the wrong way because it means that their actions are determined solely by your whims. It puts children in the position of being beneath the teacher, rather than working with the teacher. Children are below teachers in stature and development, but that doesn’t  mean that they should be put in the position where they feel they are being subjected to our arbitrary whims. When we respect and value children, we give them real meaning for what we are asking them to do:

“It’s time to clean up because it is time to go outside (or lunch time, or time for mommy to come).”

“Use your walking feet in the classroom because running inside is not safe. You will trip and fall and bump your head.”

It is not hard to find real meaning for the things we ask children not to do (or to do). When we find the reason, we need to use it – especially in those cases where reason becomes reality: someone ran in the classroom, tripped, and bumped their head. Then we can refer back to our reason: “This is why we don’t run in the classroom – because we will trip and fall and bump our heads. It hurts, doesn’t it?” Pointing out that it hurts when we don’t follow directions will highlight that aspect of it, but even highlighting it needs to be done in a respectful manner. Anyone would be turned off by an “I told you so” tone. When we point out the infraction in a matter-of-fact way, we are showing the child respect and bringing their attention to the fact that they would have been safer had they followed directions. But most people are stubborn in that they tend to learn more from experience than from advice.

Our classrooms should be based on reason, if for no other reason than we are teaching children to think. Using sound reasons for why children should behave a certain way shows them that we uphold them as thinking human beings. It does not insult their intelligence, but gives them a foundation on which to make connections and see a bigger picture for themselves.

For more information about classroom management tips and a new way of looking at discipline, click here and here.

In A Reframing State of Mind: Facilitating Creativity

I am not sure where I heard or saw the first suggestion of teachers being facilitators instead of, well, teachers. I have pulled countless books off of my shelves in an effort to find the reference, but it really is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Most of the books I own regarding education assume that this mindset about the teacher is the one that is held by the reader.

It occurred to me after reading my last post that perhaps the term needs a little more clarification. I have a tendency at times to be a little general in my writing, and I don’t want to short-change anyone when it comes to this idea. I did a little web surfing, and I found a thought that struck me as the perfect way to reframe the role of the teacher:

Traditionally, teachers are the ones with knowledge and expertise in a particular field. They impart that knowledge through a variety of means to their students. Facilitators build on the knowledge base of the group of students to find the answers to questions.

I read a very good example of this in one of my books (the one I have been searching for). A class was curious about how shoes were made. During a class discussion, the student expressed the desire to visit a shoe store to find out. Now, a teacher would have simply explained to the students that shoes are not made at a shoe store and told them where shoes were made. However, in the example the teacher booked a field trip to the shoe store so that the children could see for themselves that shoes are not made there (this example was found in Developing Constructivist Early Childhood Curriculum: Practical Principles and Activities by DeVries, Zan, Hildebrandt, Edmiaston, and Sales).

Approaching teaching in this way shows a level of respect for the thoughts and ideas of the children. By respecting where they are coming from enough to pursue their ideas, teachers encourage children to be honest about those ideas in the first place. By Encouraging children to be honest about their ideas, teachers can get a much more accurate picture of the misconceptions and misunderstandings that children hold, and can work with children to correct those misunderstandings. But remember – as a facilitator, teachers do not just hand over the right answer. They work with students to find the right answers. That is the key difference between a teacher and a facilitator.

By reframing the role of the teacher in this way, we teach children the skills they need to become lifelong learners. This is because we are learning wit them. This attitude not only encourages honesty from the children, but honest from ourselves as we recognize the fact that learning can be a cooperative experience.

For more information about the myth of progressive education and right/wrong answers, visit this post.

Building Positive Relationships: Helping Children Connect the Dots

Any time the children in my class make a mental connection, I celebrate with them. A while back, the class was absolutely enthralled with the book Owl Babies by Martin Waddel. One day a child was upset and told me that they wanted their mommy. I said, “Don’t worry, mommy is coming back.” Another child thought for a moment and said, “Just like the owl babies’ mommy!” I was very impressed with this connection and Owl Babies became our flagship book for remembering that mommy always comes back.

Children make connections like this all the time. The challenge for us, as teachers, is to not get so caught up in our own agenda that we miss the children trying to tell us about their connections. Any time I hear a child insistently calling my name – no matter what we are doing at the time – I try to answer and give them a chance to talk. It takes some practice and some patience, but I have found that the connections that the children make are much more visible to me.

There are two aspects of teaching this way that I want to discuss further. The first is, as I said, our own agenda. We all have a lesson plan that we must follow every week. We have activities planned that we know the children will enjoy and that will help them grow in the areas they need to grow in. The children keep trying to tell us something, but we don’t have time to listen to what they have to say – they need to be quiet so that we can move on to our next activity. Have you felt like that? Like there is too much distracting you from fulfilling your agenda for the day? Like they just don’t want to listen to you, and don’t they realize that we have a lot to do today?

SLOW DOWN

Your agenda, in the grand scheme of things, is not that important. What is important is that this young child, who is still learning about and experiencing life, thinks highly enough of you that they want to share a piece of their life with you. This piece is so important to them that they will do whatever they can to get your attention so that they can share it.

WITH YOU.

Wherever this piece of their life leads you – to a different learning experience or a play idea that you hadn’t thought of before – pursue it for them. I promise you that whatever was so important to you can be reworked into the idea that was so important to them. And I realize that not all of the ideas that they have can be pursued. But this brings me to point number two.

Respect them enough to listen to them. Sometimes we get so caught up in thinking about them as children who need to be taught that we forget that they are people who have feelings, just like us. I know that when I am bursting with a new idea or have made a connection or have a celebration to share, I seek out the closest person I can find who I think will care. It can be a little deflating to try to share something with someone, but you can’t because that person can’t or won’t stop what they are doing for two minutes to listen to your news. It makes me think twice about sharing with them next time. If we don’t give children an chance to share their lives with us, how excited are they going to be to share with us when we want them to at circle time or any other time? How can we build connections with them if we don’t let them share with us? And what are the consequences as far as their self-esteem and their confidence if we don’t allow them to share?

What are the consequences to the classroom? If their inability to share leads to frustration, they may take that out on other children. If it leads to sadness, we may find ourselves dealing with a moody child. Neither option is ideal when working with a class full of children.

“Exactly,” I hear you say. “I have a class FULL of children. How can I possibly listen to the stories of every single one of them?” Well, the good news is that they won’t all have news to share at the same time. But the bad news is that many times the story of one child will trigger a thought in another, who will have to tell you their thought right then. This is a good opportunity to teach how we take turns when speaking. I have heard of several different ways to teach this communication skill, including giving a set of cut-out lips to the speaker and cut-out ears to the listener. My favorite, however, is simply to tell the children whose turn it is to talk. They typically understand, especially when they are told that they will get a turn as well. This even works when the teacher is trying to talk. Informing them of whose turn it is helps them to learn the mechanics of conversation.

The point is that nothing in anyone’s agenda is more important than the thoughts of the children. And the thoughts of the children can lead you to learning opportunities that you never dreamed of. Taking a moment to listen can be the greatest thing you, as a teacher, have done since making a lesson plan.

I Am Not That Jaded Yet

So in my last post I commented that I was going to try to use my very small amount of influence to make a change in the new center. I think back on that comment now and wonder when it was that I became such an idealist. As I walked the halls in the morning looking for whatever busy work I could find before I had to attach myself to a classroom (usually involving cleaning or maintenance), I would listen to one teacher putting her children through their paces (“Letters,”…””A,B,C,D…,” “Numbers to 30,” “1,2,3,4…”) It sounded so robotic and so…boring. I would listen to another teacher use every threat imaginable to get her children to be quiet. By the end of the day I was ready to scream and pull my hair out because there seemed to be no respect for the children and no concern about what would be fun or exciting for them in terms of day-to-day activities. No one was discovering new, exciting ways to teach the children the things that they needed to know. No one was discovering new ways to spark creativity, or invite curiosity, or help with discovery. Instead it felt like the expectation was for the children to do exactly what they were told to do exactly when they were told to do it, and never mind what the children might want or need to do.

Yes, I could have stayed and tried to see what kind of a difference I could make, but when the general atmosphere of a place is that of oppression, and when there seem to be no sparks of anything else throughout a building, one becomes afraid that they will be swallowed up by that atmosphere rather than capable of changing it. I refuse to let myself become jaded to the point where I do not marvel at the capabilities of the children in my care, I do not do everything I can to make their learning experience fun and exciting, and I do not do everything in my power to teach them the social skills they need rather than try to create mindless, obedient robots.

I left that center and transferred to an entirely different center, one that celebrates creativity, open-ended activities, and respect to children. I have only been at the new center for two weeks, but the atmosphere is like a breath of fresh air after where I was before.