I like to think of the teachers as hosts of the neighborhood “open house” party. We get people together so they can get to know us and each other better, and we really want them to have fun and feel welcomed. We might say:
“I’m so glad you are here!”
“I was thinking about you!”
“I can’t wait for you to talk to…”
“What can I get you?”
“Did I tell you where to find…?”
“Thank you for coming!”
With other adults at a gathering, we are not bothered when someone leaves their coat somewhere inconvenient, or spills a drink, or laughs too loud, or eats too much, or stands alone, not talking to anyone… we assume that all have good intentions but varying levels of comfort with other people and new places.
We do not quiz our guests about what they know, or tell them they’ve taken too much of something, or shame them for making a mistake. That would be rude! But adults have a tendency to do all those things to children.
Just because we see the children in our care every day, that doesn’t mean they have internalized our adult ideas of how we want them to act in a group. Every day is a new day with children. They don’t know what they don’t know. And they don’t remember what’s not relevant to them in that moment (thank you, Dan Hodgins, for teaching me that!).
What if the voices of the teachers weren’t heard much at all at school, and when the children did hear adults talking to them, it was rarely to question or criticize what the children are doing, but instead to invite connection?
“Do you have enough of what you’re using?” (instead of, SHARE!)
“Oh? Hmmm!” (I have time for you, I’m listening, but I’m not controlling the direction of the conversation, I’m just available)
“Yes, I see that!” (acknowledgement without praise)
“Oh, I want to do that too!” (I like your ideas!)
“So-and-so is doing… let’s go keep her/him company!” (introductions)
“I’m glad you came today, I was thinking of you when I set that up!” (I think about you when you aren’t here, because you are important to me)
How many interactions with children are you having that could be classified as quizzing questions (with right or wrong answers), commands (even if said in a friendly voice), or judgments (praise included)? The goal is not to eliminate all helpful guidance, the idea is to be mindful of how often you approach children to instruct, rather than being open to whatever exchange they might like to have (even if that’s none at all!).
Teacher Tom says, “Research has shown that 80% of the sentences adults say to children are commands.” And nobody likes to be told what to do! How do you feel when someone tells you what to do? Don’t you prefer to figure things out for yourself, to be given credit for knowing when to ask for help? When grownups have a boss at work that wants to tell everyone what to do and how to do it, we call it micromanaging, because we take for granted that adults are capable of finding their own solutions to problems. Why can’t we assume that children can too?
Lawyers are told, “Never ask a question that you don’t know the answer to,” because they want to control what happens next, but I think teaching should be the opposite. Avoid asking questions you already know the answer to, because that is not an authentic question. Children want to listen to people that they have a relationship with, but attempts at control can invite rebellion and disconnection (and children will treat others the way they are treated).
Asking someone a question with an response in mind that you want to hear is a test. If you want to get to know the children, ask them questions that you don’t know the answer to, and then be curious about what they say. Or don’t say anything at all, and then you make room for someone else to speak. There’s a old children’s rhyme that goes:
“The wise old owl sat in the oak, the more he listened, the less he spoke, the less he spoke, the more he heard… now, what do you think of this old bird?“
To hear more from Teacher Tom, here is a link to his wonderful blog!