I had an unexpected epiphany on the last week of school before the Winter Break. It made me think a lot about self-regulation, co-regulation, and ultimately, what students might need the most from us.
Where It All Began …
As you can imagine, there were many different special events and holiday-themed days during this week of school. When I went into support students and educators, I was often doing so in different ways than usual. One day, I went into a kindergarten classroom, and a group of students were colouring at the table. I never sit down to colour with kids. I did on this day, and that’s what led to this special moment.
Let me explain a little bit more. The first time that I met this student was on a day that I ended up being a co-educator in the classroom. I knew nothing about him, but I met him within the first five minutes of school. He was arguing with another student about the location of the crayons on the table. The other child went to move the box of crayons, and he kept pushing them back.
He said, “I spent a lot of time figuring out exactly where these would go. You are not going to move them.” The other child was getting frustrated, so I went over to help. I said, “What if he moves the box to get his crayons and then moves them back?” This led to the comment, “Who do you think you are?” It wasn’t the greatest initial connection, but I was determined to turn things around. Since that time, we’ve had various interactions in the classroom — some more positive than others — but I always try to connect with this child.
So when he whispered, “I like you,” I thought to myself, maybe these moments connecting have made a difference. I was admittedly a little weepy-eyed when he made his comment, and I just thought it was a lovely thing for him to say. I didn’t think much more about this until another experience on a different day that week.
My Second Key Moment
In another classroom that week, I decided to connect with a student that I don’t see that often. I tweeted out this story after the experience.
In the Twitter story, I mentioned that maybe the “adult connection helped.” This has me thinking more about the first experience that I shared, but also about different experiences in Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes. Students gravitate to adults when we sit-down to converse or join their play. We might begin with one child, but soon others are there to share ideas, borrow supplies, and extend the learning. As much as students want to connect with other kids, they also want these positive interactions with adults.
What Does This Mean When It Comes To Self-Reg?
As Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins have shared before, “Self-Reg begins with relationships.” As educators, there are all kinds of different ways that we try to build positive relationships with students — some probably being more creative than others. Thinking about the last week of school before the Break, I wonder if one of the best things that adults could do for kids is just being there for them.
- Sit down with them.
- Listen to them.
- Observe their play.
- Join in on their play.
- Take the time to do what they want you to do and see what they want you to see.
The holidays are a busy time of the year. It’s hard to avoid that “rushed feeling,” whether it be at school or at home. Maybe over the Break and after it, we can all test out these quiet connections, where we simply try to be with kids and see what happens next. Is it us — our presence and our attention — that children might want most of all? As amazing as it is to be creative, maybe a simple approach might be just as valuable.
Aviva? Not for the first time, your thoughts are timely. In outdoor education I have been thinking on our relationships with students. Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouts said, (paraphrased) “We teach adults to be kids so that they may teach kids to be adults.” And if we as the adults take time to converse in the sandbox, or build and problem solve on that marble run with our young learners – it goes far.
However, in our situation, the students are only at the nature centres for 3.5 hours. It could be an early years class today and a Grade 10 Science class tomorrow. Our ability to build relationships goes beyond our willingness to encourage play and exploration. The lunch time chat, the discussion with an individual as we walk down the trail side by side – these moments are at the very least equally important.
Thanks Rob for your comment! You make such a valuable point here. It reminds me of some conversations that I had with my previous teaching partner and friend, Paula. She often spoke about every moment being a learning opportunity — and that extended beyond literacy and math, but also into relationships. It reminds me of why we loved our eating table so much. This space had us sitting down, eating, and talking with kids … and so many wonderful relationships were built and nurtured around this small table: https://adunsiger.com/2019/10/12/the-411-on-an-eating-table-what-is-it-why-does-it-work-could-it-exist-past-kindergarten/. In your position, it’s really about maximizing every one of these moments that allows for this relationship building in some cases. In the classroom though, by reconsidering the non-instructional times — from recess to lunch to hallway transitions — could we end up connecting with some kids in different ways than we do in the classroom? Could these times give us a chance to connect with a few students that we might be struggling connecting with in our usual ways and spaces? You have me wondering …