I am currently enrolled in a Teacher Leadership course through our Board. This is the second face-to-face course that I’ve taken, and in both cases, I’ve struggled with the same thing: those initial social interactions. If I know you, I’m very social, but I struggle when getting started in unstructured social situations. We never have assigned seating in these courses, so the first big decision is always where to sit. What a big decision this is!
These fellow educators are professionals. They are not likely to say, “You can’t sit there,” but I have run across many “saved seats” over the years. Then there are people that know colleagues that are there, or enrolled with friends, or want to connect with others in similar positions. Does a high school teacher want to sit near a Kindergarten teacher? Will we have things to talk about?
I was lucky on the first night of this course. I happened to know another participant, so I went and joined his table. In the last course I took through the Board, everyone seemed to stay at the same table during each session. Imagine my surprise then when a few people moved to a different group on night number two. I tried not to take it personally, but I wondered, did I do something to make them leave? Gosh, I hope not!
Today then was session number three. Being a Saturday session, I was actually able to get there early. I’m a creature of habit, who, like my students, love the comfort of routine. Sticking with my routine, I went to sit in the same seat. None of the other usual table members had arrived yet, so I did a little work while I was waiting for them. Then one person came, and another person came, and they all went to sit somewhere else. I was alone!
I was now faced with this conundrum: Should I stay sitting, and see if others join my group, or should I move and try to join another group? What would I say to these other table partners? Would they welcome me? I waited. I tried to focus on some school work. And in my head, I planned what I might say when I got up and moved. Thankfully I planned slowly, and those two educators that moved away from our table group in the second session, came to ask if they could sit with me today. Yes! I breathed a deep sigh of relief!
I also quickly realized what this must be like for our Kindergarten students that are just learning how to enter play. I felt like that three-year-old that needed to approach that daunting task of asking, “Can I play too?” I’m reflecting back on this experience in our classroom from a few weeks ago.
I was kind of like that child looking over the sofa. As adults, we have way more experiences asking to “join in,” but we’ve also been met with way more responses of, “No you cannot,” or “I’m waiting for someone else.” Social stressors are real, and they are not just realities for kids.
I think about the one rule that we’ve tried to enforce in our classroom: when a child asks, “Can I play?,” the answer is always, “Yes.” If there is a problem, we’ll be there to support the students as they work through it, but we want kids to see the value in extending their peer group, welcoming different children into play, and alleviating the social stressor that comes from the answer of, “No.” Sometimes I wish that this same rule was in effect for adults. Thankfully, the many other times that I needed to seek out a partner during my course and ask to “play,” I was greeted with affirmative head nods and answers of, “Sure!,” but I still felt the stress of asking. I still wondered, How will I respond if somebody says, “no”?
Sometimes I question, is there an easier way? Don’t we all want to know that, “Yes, we can play too?” I may be able to talk myself through these challenges, take the additional deep breaths, and eventually find a table group that welcomes me, but my stress is certainly real. Even leaders and wannabe leaders can wonder, will we all be welcomed with open arms, and how might we respond if we’re not?
I can certainly relate to your article. While I might appear so social in gatherings where I know people but when I don’t know anyone I cannot socialise and many times just sit on my own.
However, I think that is why one is so aware of these feelings and can truly help young children in similar situations who find it difficult to join new groups. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your comment, Rhonda! This empathy piece is so important, in my opinion. Now to also support young children — and even adults — when they’re in this kind of experience. What can we do?