Over the last few weeks, I’ve interacted with teachers, coaches, and administrators as the “new” year begins for the adults and children in their care. What I am hearing has a common theme—frustration, disappointment, hope. What is going on? Well, maybe we can use the CLASS to think this through.
As we plan for the new children, new setting, new staff—there are a lot of moving parts. The truth is, time for intentional planning, reflection and considering the developmental needs of the children in our care is hard to find. I want to take a look at these moving parts with the hopes of helping us all ground ourselves in perspective. And while it’s hard to find the time, it’s really critical to ask yourself some questions. Try to remember, who they are? What is their reality?
Why don’t these kids know what to do? How do I help them understand? Does my vision for how children tell us what they need jell with how I respond? Try to remember that each child is an individual and they need support that meets their needs. Try to remember that each of us has our own story.
Now let’s imagine that you are 3 years old. Maybe you’ve been in early care since you were a baby, maybe this is your first group experience. Maybe your life experience has been one where someone helped you navigate your developmental needs, or maybe not. Maybe you are feeling a lot of big feelings: excitement (this could be really fun, look at all those cool toys!) or apprehension (wait, when do I get a snack, I’m hungry!) or confusion (what does “find your spot” mean anyway? I don’t see a spot, I see a colorful carpet). Does my teacher know what I’m feeling? Does my teacher see the world with my eyes? What if I make a mistake? What if I do the “right thing?" How do I know? Try to remember a time that you walked into an unknown situation. Maybe a new job. Did you need someone to orient you? How will you help these children know the answer? We need help and so do our children.
Breathe everyone. The first weeks of school are about guidance—showing the way, understanding the times of day. Moments of anxiety, moments of delight. As the adult, we have had the benefit of experience and we’ve learned from that. Our three year olds have been around for thirty six months. They are negotiating so many things. They want to please us. They are crushed when they get it wrong. What is it that you want them to experience during the day? Try to remember that they depend on us to make it all make sense.
So, how do we help? Be clear about your expectations. Be consistent in your responses. Plan for ways to help your children learn the rules. The first weeks should be all about learning the ropes. Be kind. Mistakes are embarrassing, humiliating, or maybe opportunities to learn. If your teacher helps you find the way without shaming you, by telling you what is the right thing AND WHY—your days become predictable, you can focus on the fun, your peers, your relationships. Try to remember that you are setting the stage for a child’s memory of their experience with you. Children are children and do not have the capacity to manage their emotions and behavior without your help.
Try to remember that the children will always remember how you responded.
The time has come for hard conversations.
That’s the feedback we have been receiving from educators across the country. There are plenty of tough conversations educators are trained, taught, or feel equipped to handle with children and families - gently bringing up a developmental concern, facilitating a disagreement between students, or explaining what happened with the classroom goldfish are all part of a day in the life. But in the last year, since the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, educators are increasingly asking for help in communicating more comfortably with young children about diversity and difference.
I was supposed to be an architect, instead I was a teacher of young children; it felt like my calling.
When I started my coursework, they tasked me with visiting multiple classrooms. It overwhelmed me when in some classrooms, children were crying, teachers were frustrated, and no one seemed to enjoy the day. I thought I had made a mistake. Thankfully, I had a professor who inspired me to continue. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the behaviors I observed in both children and teachers, the professor charged me to uncover the root of those behaviors.
And so, my journey to support social-emotional development began.
This past year of hybrid and virtual learning due to the pandemic highlighted the gaps in learning and the inequities that we already knew existed. It is apparent, now more than ever, that there needs to be a narrow focus on bridging the divides (e.g., digital) that exist and meeting students where they are in order to promote growth and put less emphasis on standardized testing. This would allow teachers to concentrate on curriculum with greater impact, differentiate their instruction, and utilize effective strategies that they know make a difference for children’s outcomes.