Kathryn stays busy, whether at work, where she keeps a close eye on Teachstone materials, or at home, where she manages a full household (two children, two dogs, one cat, one husband, and four schedules). Passionate about education and interactions, she spent her teaching career supporting students—from those at risk of failure and dropping out, to pregnant teens, to honors students—as they used reading and writing to deepen their self-understanding. She left the bricks-and-mortar classroom for online education, creating multi-media courses for teachers and administrators, before finding her way to Teachstone, where she’s been involved with the development of every program we offer! With her great respect for educators and their daily challenges, she gets fueled by talking with teachers and coaches and the children they support. With two daughters of her own, she sees even more the importance of high-quality education.
We all know people are naturally social beings—we need interactions to survive. But just because we’re naturally social doesn’t mean we know how to be social. We have to learn social behaviors—from our families, caregivers, and peers. Teachers play a key role in promoting social development, which includes peer play and friendships.
Children love playing shadow tag, catching and stepping on each other’s shadows. We teachers need to keep an eye on our shadows too...metaphorically speaking, that is. We’re big in children’s eyes, and we have a lot of power over how they spend their day. If we slip into taking over their explorations and answering our own questions, we subtly let children know that their ideas and interests aren’t as important as ours. But if we want our children to develop independence and feel engaged in our classroom, then we have to show we value their ideas and support their independence.
It’s such a delicate balance: you want to support children’s independence and show genuine regard for their perspectives, but you’re afraid that if you do, your class will get out of control. It’s happened to me—I’m following one child’s lead and suddenly the rest of the group is completely off track, or a child is leading a lesson and the rest of the class ignores him! So how do teachers give children genuine leadership opportunities, and still complete activities and maintain an organized classroom?
At a CLASS Group Coaching (MMCI) Training in Florida, an instructor told a story about finding a coconut on the beach with her granddaughter. She asked her, “How do you think we can open it up?” Before her grandchild could respond, her husband chimed in with exact instructions. She laughed because of course she had been trying to get her granddaughter problem solving—not her husband! It’s so easy and natural for us to jump in with an answer. As teachers, we have to remind ourselves why we stand back—to give children the opportunity to build those higher-order thinking skills that are so important to school and life success.
My children were lucky enough to have schoolteachers who, among many things, managed their classroom beautifully. Donna and Deanna were an amazing team! While I would shriek “Don’t step on the ice,” as my children slipped yet again into our teeny fish pond (no worries—it wasn’t deep), clear expectations—stated positively—just rolled off Donna and Deanna’s tongues as naturally as sunshine. And so I made a study of how they talked, and while I still might occasionally say things like “Don’t kick your sister!” here’s what I learned:
My friend Laura and I started teaching at the same time. She chose to work with a very difficult group of kids. Our department chair described the class as “a can of worms—they’re all wriggling, and you just never know when one’s going to wiggle out!” Laura is lively and engaging, so I knew kids would like her—but would she be able to “keep all the worms in the can”?
Whether building relationships, supporting language development, or pushing learning, conversations with children are important. (And fun! And funny!) Every afternoon, I walk my dog Holly to the bus stop to wait for my daughter. At the stop, there are a handful of other parents and their pre-K and toddler children. My favorite is a four-year-old who chatters nonstop:
Unfortunately, I notice when I’m with children that while I tend to ask a lot of questions, they’re not always open-ended. I really have to work to broaden my repertoire of questions and be quite intentional about asking questions that encourage children to come up with their own ideas and put those ideas into words (and not just answer yes/no or with a “correct” response such as “yellow” or “pig”).