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Community in the Classroom with Mr. Chazz

26 May 2022 by Allison Bloomfield

Chazz Lewis is an educational specialist who “teaches teachers to teach” in a chain of child development centers. He works closely with schools, teachers, and children. He earned his master’s in executive leadership at American University. Mr. Chazz envisions a world where most people wake up every day, enjoying the process of becoming the best versions of themselves. He’s also well known on TikTok, Instagram, and his own podcast.

In today’s episode, Mr. Chazz explains how he got into teaching, why he decided to teach young children, and what kept him teaching. He also talks about building a community in the classroom and being the community you want to build.

Mr. Chazz' Top Teaching Tips

1. A classroom is a community.

It’s important to think seriously about what kind of community I want to create in my classroom, and model it consistently. It all starts with me.

2. A sense of belonging is important in a community.

I need to make sure all children have a sense of belonging in my classroom. I need to find ways to connect with children whose behavior is a cry for support, instead of excluding them which destroys their sense of belonging.

3. Let go of being a perfectionist.

It’s okay to let go of being a perfectionist and be an "improvenist" instead.

 


Read the Full Transcript

Kate: Hi, everyone. I’m Kate Cline from Teachstone. Welcome back to the new season of the Teaching with CLASS podcast. This season, we’ll continue hearing from inspiring educators who know what real life is like in classrooms, and who will share tons of ideas you can use right away in your classroom.

In this episode, we’re kicking things off with the very inspirational Chazz Lewis. You might know him from TikTok, Instagram, and his own podcast on Get Vocal as Mr. Chazz. His mission in life is to enjoy the process of becoming the best version of himself and help others do the same. As an educator and educational specialist, Mr. Chazz understands the critical impact teachers have on the world, and that teaching is a choice we make each day.

As you join our conversation, take a moment to consider this: What inspires you to continue choosing the important work you do each day?

So, Mr. Chazz, welcome. I'm really excited to have this conversation with you today.

Chazz: I'm excited to be here and have the conversation with you and with everyone listening, all the teachers, coaches, mentors, anyone out there working with young children.

Kate: Super. All right, I have heard you mentioned that one reason you started teaching was because you needed a job. I thought to myself, well, there are a lot of jobs you could have chosen. But why teaching? Why specifically with young children?

Chazz: Part of why I chose working with children is because there's something about children that's just so unique in their perspective. I feel like they have a lot to offer and a lot to teach us adults as well.

I'm going to be 100% honest with you. This isn't probably the best thing to say. But it's my truth and it's probably some other people out there too who are thinking about getting a job or wanting to. I had applied at other places.

I was a teen when I was applying or looking for a job and I didn't know what I was going to do. I've done some work with children. I've done some volunteer work with children in the past. I was really open to take a job anywhere.

My friend had recently just got a job at a childcare facility down the street. They actually had a lot of openings because there was apparently some big altercation that happened in the baby room between some co-workers and some teachers. They had a lot of openings.

The reason why I want to be honest and I want to share that is because it speaks to two things. It speaks to the turnover that is so present in our field and our profession. There often people or directors who are begging people to come through the doors, who they can relatively trust to work with children.

I think I kind of came in in that. I'm like, oh, yeah, sure, I'll work here. I don't have any experience other than a little bit of volunteer work. But yeah, I like it. I will give it a try. It also speaks to the importance of culture in a school and how that also contributes to turnover.

Why did I started working with children? It's because I needed a job. Now, why I continued working with children is something completely an entirely different conversation.

Kate: What is it about teaching that's kept you around?

Chazz: When I first started working with children, one thing that I say that I enjoyed, I really did enjoy just being with children, connecting with them, and just getting into their world. It's unlike any other different professional job. I think I was drawn to that because of my own personal energy for things and liking to move around.

I think another reason why I was drawn and continued to stay is because I was the child who talked too much in class, kind of got in trouble at class, was dismissed often in class, and struggled with teachers. I didn't have a lot of great relationships with a lot of teachers in my schooling career.

There are definitely some where I had great relationships with, but in the aggregate as a whole, I would say probably, I didn't have a great relationship with 95% of teachers that I had the pleasure of learning from. There was a little bit of wanting to see those children that struggled and wanting to get back to them.

Anyone working in childcare knows that you have to have a lot of reasons to stay. If I didn't have so many reasons, if there wasn't a strong pull to stay and to do the work that I was doing, I would have left because it really would not have been worth it. It's a hard job that is draining. There's a lot to learn. You don't get a lot in return. You don't get much money in return. You often don't get a lot of appreciation in return. You don't get status. People look down on early childhood professionals a lot of times.

Really, my big reason for staying and it's the reason why I'm still in the space, still doing the work, is because I understood the gravity of what I was doing, of growing the next generation of humans who are going to inherit the earth. They're going to have to solve problems.

You know what, Kate, completely impromptu. I did not plan to do this. I actually have a little bit of a spoken word that I created to kind of express. It actually comes from a real experience that I'm going to share with you in just a moment. I don't really share this one often.

Growing the next generation of humans, I understood the gravity of that. That's what kept me, but that also is what stressed me out, too, because I would go into situations and I would not know how to help children with the conflict that they were having. I tried to help a child or two children having conflict. They end up more mad or hitting each other where they were just yelling at each other. Now they're hitting each other. I'm like, man, am I ruining the next generation? I know this is a big job, but I really don't know how to do it.

At that point, when you first start, you don't get a lot of training or at least I didn't get a lot of training. I think that's indicative of most early childhood facilities. It's changed since and I've been a part of that change. As I kind of grew in the company, I had more power in the company.

When I first started, it was a three-day practicum. It was a three-day practicum. It's a day of paperwork. It's a day of HR policies. You did take a tour of the building or something, like a little scavenger hunt. Then the last day was a play video.

To indicate how outdated this play video was, I put it in the VCR to watch it. Just know that it wasn't the most robust training to prepare me for being in a classroom with 30 children ages 3–5 years old, and all the things that come with it. I really, really struggled there.

The same thing that pulled me, I'm like, man, I want to find out how to get better at this and do better. There's got to be a better way. I got to learn different things and try them out. It was the same thing that was really stressing me out. I was like, oh, man, this has weighed on me. Not even just the weight of internally putting myself, of the directors, administrators, the teachers, parents, or the children themselves, because this is their life experience [...] with me. It's shaping who they are.

The human that they're going to become is not only going to impact their own life, but impact all the lives that they're going to bump into their journey. That's why I have stayed to be able to impact and to be able to help teachers to actually be more equipped than what I was in those moments when I first started. That is really the root of my why, having that impact.

That's why I have stayed to be able to impact and to be able to help teachers to actually be more equipped than what I was in those moments when I first started. That is really the root of my why, having that impact.

 

That's why I'm on this podcast with you, so I can reach out to that teacher right now sitting on their break, listening, wondering if they're going to walk back in that school or they're going to just drive off and never to be seen again.

I'm trying to reach out to the teacher that is deciding whether they want to work with children or not. The administrator who loves teaching, but then in their administrative role, now they hate their job. It's not the same and they missed the classroom.

The parent that has been blessed with so many bundles of joy, but doesn't quite understand child development or any other way to help children other than the way that they were raised through fear and coercion. That is why I stay and why I do what I do at the root of it.

Now, I promised you a little bit of a spoken word piece. Let's remember this because I have not done this or even said this to myself in a long time. Let's see if I can remember it.

I was having this conversation and this was in the classroom. I was in the classroom [...]. She said, "Mr. Chazz, Mr. Chazz, why are you my teacher?" I thought about it for a second while I took a breather. Then I got on eye-level and talked to her like an equal. Basically, I told her she's a sequel to our people. I told her about the humans and everything we've been doing, like the rockets we've been boosting and our influence to pollution.

I listen to my four-year-old student. I told my four-year-old student, the teachers make the problems, the students make solutions. One day, you'll be choosing what to do when the humans lose their cool and I don't want you to be a fool. That's why you come here and go to school. That's why I come here and teach you. Cool beans, cool beans, cool beans.

Cool beans is like a callback.

Kate: Thank you so much. That is really inspiring, because it is about building the classroom community that we want to see growing around us as we step out of the way as the adults and we're handing the world off to the young people coming up, to know that we've done what we can do to help them, learn how to solve problems and all that.

Talk to us about how you build that community then in your classroom. I heard you mentioned in your spoken word about talking to children like they're equals and explaining things. Tell us more.

Chazz: There are lots of ways to build community. It's an ongoing process, ongoing conversations. It's not just some book you read. You put out a lesson plan with some book that you read and say, we're like a community and we all hold hands, let's all put our handprints and all agree to be a community.

Those are great things to do. It's a symbolic, fun thing to do. You communicate your values to parents who are walking in and administrators to the spark conversations. That's not really the root of how you create community. It's in the big things, it's in the medium things, it's in the little things that you do, and maybe even the things that you don't notice that you do.

One big thing in terms of creating a community where we struggle is when we have a child who is struggling. I think this is one of the best opportunities. A child who is having a hard time is a really good opportunity to kind of reinforce some of those community values.

I've seen teachers. To be honest, I've been that teacher, too, who's gotten frustrated with a certain child exhibiting certain behaviors. That comes out in my tone in how I address the child, even if a lot of times, we don't mean to.

If we're not being conscious and intentional about our tone, and how we're seeing the child, and we're just using the words, or we're just using the script that we saw in a CLASS® handbook, or in a Conscious Discipline thing, then we may be saying like, oh, we all support each other and we're all community. We're all here to help each other. But if every time a child is struggling, we're chastising them, even just with our tone and our body language, children will pick up on that and they will do the same.

But if every time a child is struggling, we're chastising them, even just with our tone and our body language, children will pick up on that and they will do the same.

I've seen it over and over and over and over again. As a person who has gone in so many different classrooms, so many different teachers, and I've seen teachers cycle in and out of the same little community, I tell you 100% how we speak to children, how we speak about children, how we address and approach children, the other children, they catch on to that.

Let's say, we'll call him Max. Johnny always gets a bad rap. We always say Johnny. Let's use a Max. Let's say Max takes books off the bookshelf and he puts them in some place where they're not supposed to be, or he gets up from circle time before you've dismissed everyone, or maybe you have a hard time transitioning from certain things or cleaning up.

Every time Max does not clean up, we go, Max, how many times do I have to tell you? Maxwell Johnson, where we use their first and last name in tone as opposed to going up to them and not making a big scene about it, or in taking the time to see that, ah, I see you really do those Legos. You really love that Lego dinosaur mansion that you made. You're playing with your dinosaurs. You love that. I see that you want to keep that.

I know it's hard to put it away. Maybe we can take a picture of it and we can save it that way, or maybe we can put it up on the shelf and we can save it that way, or maybe we can knock it down and build it again. But taking that time to connect and to collaborate, we're not doing that. Instead, we're like, Max, how many times I have to tell you? We're just judging and chastising.

The children will pick up on that very quickly and learn to do the same thing with their peers. How does that feel when you're struggling with something, you're having a hard time with something, and all your peers start yelling at you or one of your peers starts yelling at you in a way that's chastising?

Not in a way that's helping you, not in a way that's seeing you, and not in a way that's supporting you, in a way that is meant to make you feel bad about what you're struggling with and hopes that you'll just change your behavior as opposed to supporting something in that moment. That's not a community feel.

I'll give an actual example because it's important to give examples. I had a child who struggled a lot with many things. It was a three-, four-, five-year-old classroom. Developmentally, we assessed them. We'd be more on a two-year-old age level. He was in a real classroom.

It was clear (developmentally) that he was in a different place than every other child in the classroom. It's clear that the other children could see it. Verbal skills weren't quite there, where everyone else was there, and transitions, and energy, and all those things.

One of the things in particular the child struggled with, he loved to get on the computer. In this class, they had a computer. It was still a desktop. We had iPads in the classroom, but funding classrooms are kind of like to get new things. The computer still worked, so we used the computer.

The way that I operated in my classroom community is that we had two people at any time. We use visual timers and all that stuff. There are some children who struggle to use the computer for a variety of reasons. Fine motor skills have been one of those things. Controlling the mouse with control is difficult, especially for young children.

Some of the children had iPads. They would go to the screen and they try to swipe the screen. It's not how it works. There are some kids who struggled with the computer. There are some kids who knew how to use it, and knew how to use the mouse, and everything. All the kids wanted to be on the computer, so that's not anything new.

The child I was talking about, we'll call him Max, too. He was on the computer with another child. We'll call her Camilla. Max got frustrated as he normally would and he started banging on the keyboard and banging on the computer because it wasn't doing what he wanted it to do. He didn't have those skills. Me as a teacher who cares very much about the classroom property in the very limited, that computer breaks were not getting another one.

Kate: That's it, right?

Chazz: Yeah, right. We just might be in a classroom that doesn't have a computer anymore. It may even advertise because you roll with it. I think that the computer has a lot of valuable lessons in it.

What Camilla did after he's banging, I remember she said, it's okay, Max. Do you want me to help you move the mouse? Which one do you want to click on?

This was a big deal to me because previously, maybe a couple of weeks before, in my classroom, they were having that reaction that every time you did something that's outside of the typical expectations for the group, people would chastise, like, Max, stop doing that. Don't do that. They will do the same thing. I noticed it originally came from me and then it went into my assistant. I started to become conscious of it and I stopped doing it.

My assistant would still respond to the child in that way, and the children would. Then I had a conversation with my assistant and we talked about it. We both agreed that the way that we approached it and our tone, we would not respond with our frustration and our finger wagging anymore.

When we changed, the children changed. When we changed and the community changed, the success that Max was having changed as well. Did he still struggle with transitions, and using the computer, and all the things he's struggled with before? Yes, he still had those struggles. But the way we're able to navigate and move through those struggles, made a world of difference.

We're not escalating the situation, and addressing it with success, and the overall emotional climate of the actual classroom too. That first had to come from really me. I'm not even going to say my assistant teacher because I know some people have co-teachers and I'm all about the co-teacher model.

Realistically speaking, this was the class that I was in charge of and I was the leader of. My assistant was really there looking to me for guidance. I had to take responsibility for that. I had to make a shift in myself to make a shift in the environment, to make a shift in the success the child was having. That's one example of how to create a community.

I do all the general, like bringing people, asking about their family, and having those conversations, talk about the individual differences, talk about how one person shrank and help someone else. It's okay that we have weaknesses and acknowledge our own weaknesses.

When you make mistakes as a teacher and as an adult, talk about them so that they know that their mistakes aren't reasons for them to be ostracized from the group that they're just something to be acknowledged and improved on. We can support each other in it.

When you make mistakes as a teacher and as an adult, talk about them so that they know that their mistakes aren't reasons for them to be ostracized from the group

I know that's a long answer, but that's one aspect of creating a community. I find it's one of the most important parts and the parts where we struggle the most.

Kate: Yes, Making sure to provide that model and being self-reflective of, what tone am I setting in my classroom? Is this the community? I spend all day long here with these people. Is this where I want to spend all day? What's this going to be like for me as a person spending my energy here all day long?

How am I connecting with those around me at my same level? How are we setting the tone for the children, really making sure that people know they're welcome, their ideas are welcome, their strengths are welcome, their challenges are welcome. All of that and we work through that together. We support each other.

That's what I heard in that comment of that child being able to say, it's okay. How can I help you? We're here to help and support each other in our community, and not exclude people or make people feel bad for the struggles that they're having, but to be able to say, "I see you're struggling, how can I help?"

If you're not doing that as an adult, children aren't going to naturally do that. That's something they learn from the model that you provide to them. It's really helpful to think about that as you're setting the tone not just for your group of children.

I've even heard stories of parents that will come in and say, my child said to me, stop and think. I was having a moment in the car and frustration with the driver, a little bit of road rage. The child said, oh, let's stop and think. It translates out to the broader community, little by little, what we're doing.

One little extra piece of nuance that's going to make this even harder and of an area of an opportunity for us is that doing it genuinely and authentically, and not because someone's watching you or because this is what you're supposed to do, but genuinely see, and getting to their perspective, and also really see those misbehaviors as often a cry for help, a cry for support.

It's easy to talk the talk and to say that. It's much harder to actually believe that. Why is it so important? Because it will impact your ability to problem solve in that moment and support in that moment. Because if you don't really believe it, you might try a thing or do a thing and then easily give up when it doesn't pan out the way that you expected it to pan out.

Well, you know what, see, this is why they're just trying to get on my nerves and they're just kind of being a bad kid. Very easily, we'll go back to our default, which is often based on the way that we were raised. We didn't always have the healthiest patterns of behavior modeled for us.

Kate: Exactly. We have the opportunity then to live that out or to change it and find a new way. I agree, children will sniff out your insincerity. If it's lip service, they can tell if you're saying, oh, we're all friends here, but you go sit over there. They're like, oh, this doesn't make sense to me. I'm going to say, it's okay for me to push someone away or make the challenge that they're presenting to my day something that I can fight against rather than solve a problem.

Chazz: Children process your body language and tone before they process your words. Yes, 100%. The words you use are important. Our body language or tone, those other ways that we communicate, I would say are just as, if not more important. They often tell the truth.

Kate: Exactly, it has to match.

Chazz: No matter where you're at, whether you are a teacher, whether you are a director, whether you're the owner of a company, realize that the way that you care for another person is going to impact the way that they care for another person.

If you're an owner, the way that you care for the people below you is going to impact the way that they care for the people below them, the people below them, the people below them. It will filter out. It will go all the way down to the children and their own individual power dynamics, because there are power dynamics among children as well.

Directors out there listening, know that the way that you care for your teachers is going to impact the way that they're in care for the children. If you're a teacher and you're thinking about ever being in a leadership position, know how important and remember how you feel right now.

Whether you feel seen or you don't feel seen, remember that and take those lessons with you when you get in a leadership position. You have the opportunity to see in a guide or to dismiss and ignore. Remember that. Keep that with you. Care for others.

Kate: What's that community that you want to build? It starts at every level.

Chazz: Be the community that you want to build.

Kate: Yes. Oh my goodness. This has been so fun talking with you today. Thank you so much for sharing your cool beans. That was really inspiring, to think about how to connect with children, about why we do what we do, and that we're here for them every day. We make this choice to be here with them every day. It's like a daily choice to come back and try again, and try even better.

I appreciate all your wisdom. If you have 30 more seconds to give one little piece of encouragement to that teacher who's like, I don't know if I can come back tomorrow, what would you say to convince them to come back?

Chazz: Oh, man. I forgot this podcast was so short. I have so many things I want to say to the world. The most important thing is avoid being a perfectionist, be an improvenist. The goal isn't to be perfect every day. The goal is to improve a little every day.

Try things out. Mess up. Mistakes are an essential part of the learning process. Learn something, try it out, reflect, and then try again. You don't beat yourself up. Don't shame yourself because things didn't go the way that you've expected or things that you don't have full control or whatever. It is okay. You are learning right alongside the children. So avoid being a perfectionist, be an improvenist.

Kate: That's awesome. Thank you so much.

Chazz: You're welcome.

Kate: Wow. What a fun and inspiring conversation. Mr. Chazz left me with three big things to think about. First, a classroom is a community. It’s important to think seriously about what kind of community I want to create in my classroom, and model it consistently. It all starts with me.

Also, a sense of belonging is important in a community. I need to make sure all children have a sense of belonging in my classroom. I need to find ways to connect with children whose behavior is a cry for support, instead of excluding them which destroys their sense of belonging.

And with Mr. Chazz’ encouragement, I can decide that it’s okay to let go of being a perfectionist and be an improvenist instead. What are you thinking about? And what would you try tomorrow?

Thank you for choosing to teach another day. And until next time, please take care of yourself and your team because what you do matters.

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