I’ve had a long journey as an educator.
I am pretty much a Type A personality. I am a workaholic always striving for perfection. This has forced me to analyze, what is perfection in a preschool classroom? I am still figuring this out.
When I was running my center in home by myself, I felt that I came very close. While you can certainly never control children’s behavior, you can attempt to guide it and limit certain opportunities for discord. I worked very hard to plan perfect projects, to ensure optimal naptimes, and to help children use their words and interact with each other. Bullying and fighting were absolutely not allowed. I had twelve happy students, and they had me.
Then Lillie came back from kindergarten.
Lillie was a student who had been with us for two years prior to moving up to “big kid” school. She had been in kindergarten for a couple of months and came back to us on a no school day.
There was basic lunch time hub bub, “Ms. Jessica I don’t liiiiike green beans.” “I want to sit next to Nick because he’s my best friend!” The sage kindergartner Lillie spoke out above the fray.
“Guys!” She exclaimed. “You don’t even know how lucky you are. In big kid school the food is YUCKY, and the kids are MEAN, and the teachers aren’t there for you like Ms. Jessica! They don’t even care if a kid is mean to you!”
Lillie’s statements were pretty generalized, we have good and bad days in any environment. I did however, have a sad epiphany. I was preparing them for kindergarten, but was I preparing them for school? Having everything meeting my perfectly perfect guideline and always swooping in at the sign of a disagreement was doing my students a disservice. They were jarred (and scarred?) by their transition to elementary school. Additionally, we prepare parents for school almost as much as we do our students. By catering to every whim and request of my families, I had robbed them of the opportunity to develop open communication with their child’s teacher.
In the book, Moral Classrooms, Moral Children by Rheta DeVries and Betty Zan, they discuss that the first principle of education should be an atmosphere in which respect for others is continually practiced, both by students and by teachers. Though a complicated subject, it basically means that we help our students become aware of rules and why we have them, their own emotions and why they react to certain situations in certain ways, that their feelings and emotions are valid and recognized, and that we form a community of caring for students, teachers, and families.
The question is, how can we create an environment that fosters and instills making good moral choices inside and outside of the preschool classroom?
Help your students learn the rules. Use simple ways to help them understand why we must have rules. Add a visual rules chart on their eye level, and discuss what they mean. Refer to them in times of conflict.
Help your students use their words. Children must have the opportunity to solve conflicts on their own. A teacher should be available to guide a situation, but not to control it.
Recognize the feelings of your students. I refer to this a lot, because I think it is a deficit in our profession. Help children formulate language about what they might be feeling, and why they might feel that way. “I can see that you are upset that Sally won’t play with you in the sandbox. It’s ok to feel sad or frustrated, but it is not ok to hit. You can tell Sally you are upset, but she is allowed to decide she doesn’t feel like it right now.”
Show your students, coworkers, and student families that you care about them, are invested in them, and that you respect them. Good communication is the biggest key to forming trust, respect, and investment. Never demean or speak ill against students, coworkers, or student families. Even if you don’t agree on certain issues, it is important to recognize the feelings of others. Also strive to get to know everyone that you interact with.
Our preschool is no longer perfectly perfect. There is discord. There is conflict. But our students are more prepared for what they will experience in public school. They have the tools to confidently tell other students “No.” They can ask for assistance from a teacher when needed. They are no longer looking at the supreme teacher to handle everything for them, and they have enough positive self image that they believe in themselves and their ability to handle situations that arise.
Two years later I received the picture in this article from a graduating student, Claira. I am glad that her perception of her preschool experience was that I taught her to do the right thing.
Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation! Please share any general feedback, or consider answering the questions below:
- How do you help students learn the rules?
- How do you show students, coworkers, and student families that you care, are invested, and respect them?