Archive for November, 2012

“What’s that?”

“How does this work?”

“What would happen if …?

Inquiring minds want to know. Are our children as “inquiring” as they could be? With older children, have we squashed that desire to ask questions through, perhaps, hand feeding them what we think they should know. Have they given up asking questions because what is the point in asking? There probably isn’t time to find the answers and the adults have another agenda. They will do the thinking for us.

In today’s world basically all information is available online. With this library at our fingertips it isn’t as important to provide the information to students but to teach them how to access it. But before they can go looking for the answers they need to ask the questions!

We can provide them with the questions but we won’t always be there. A better use of our time is to to teach them (and empower them) to think of their own questions, to be curious, to seek more information.

Little children are great at asking questions, especially the “why”. With our support we can nurture this curiosity and introduce new questions to ask, to add to their toolbelt for “inquiring minds”.

How do we do this?
* One main strategy is to support the questioning and not squelch it with responses of “not now” or “I’ve told you before” or one of the many other roadblocks that we throw out on occasion.

* We can ask them. “What questions do you have about this?” “What do you think we should find about about this?”

* We can introduce them to new types of questions: “What do you think would happen if…?” “What do think your grandmother used when she was your age?” “Where did this fruit come from?” “What can we use instead?” “What else can we use this for?”

I had a scenario play out in my mind: the teacher introduces some object that the children are not familiar with. The teacher has the children asks questions about the object and the questions are documented and posted on the wall as reminders.
Opportunities for exploration, experimenting, and research are provided and as answers to questions are found, as more questions are thought of, the knowledge is compiled in a portfolio that is perhaps shared with parents, or made available in the classroom for future reference.

Where & when can we encourage curiosity?
Anytime and everywhere… indoors, outdoors, circle time, snack time, the block area, the craft shelf and so on.

Being aware of barriers helps us plan to avoid them, work around them, overcome, them, and utilize them.

What stops us from encouraging creativity?
* time – always a major factor. Taking the time out of our schedules to listen to the questions and to fit in the time to find the answers.
* expert persona: some people like being the expert that is the source of all answers. This not only can stifle the exploration process but can also limit the direction of play for fear of not knowing the answers.
* training – sometimes we don’t try new strategies because a) we aren’t aware of them and b) we don’t know how to implement them
* play – our training can have us so focused on “play” and/or child-directed learning as the learning tool that we don’t want to intervene and turn the classroom into a more structured program.
* and?

What other ways do we put a damper on creativity or miss the opportunity to empower it?

What questions do you have about empowering curiosity?


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Thinking Time

I had a conversation last night with a teen and he reminded me of the importance of allowing time for children/youth to process information.

The lad told me the following:

“We learned about force. I get the concept and the formulas but now we are learning about gravitational force and I haven’t even figured out force yet! And then the teacher says that we will have an assignment on gravitational force this week and we are just learning that today and I’m still back on force!”

He likes to process information, play with it, explore it, experiment with it until he has a really good understanding of the topic and how if plays out in life and can be utilized, etc. But there is no time for that.

In the preschool setting we like to change up the environment and the learning resources but … are we also taking away that extra time needed to explore, to practice, to experiment and to develop a stronger understanding?

We live in a rushed society and in the classroom, with so many things to accomplish in one day along with the giant list of mandated requirements, we sadly rush through the learning part to fit it all in within the time limits. How often are there conflicts and challenges occurring during transition times? And how do we typically handle these moments? .. we rush through them, step in and handle them ourselves, use “because” as our answers and move on to the next item on the agenda. The opportunity is missed to teach and practice conflict resolution, anger management, time management, self-awareness, empathy, resiliency, assertiveness and the list goes on.

My grandson loves watching alphabet videos and at 18 months of age he knows his letters, the sounds they make and what words connect to each of the letters. Pretty cool. Where does “time” fit into this? What I realized is that some videos are “wham bam flash flash flash”. They are full of lights and bling but they don’t allow time for the mind to process the connections and the meanings. I have troubles keeping up with the flashing letters, let alone a child who has no idea what the letters are all about. And so I am selective of which videos play – I want the slow ones, the ones that leave the letters on the screen for a relatively long time as the song plays out. “A is for apple … a .. a… apple”, a total of 8 beats for each letter. Time to process.

And what about when we speak to the children. Do we pause and give time for them to process our words and the message? Do we give them time to understand?

And when giving directions – do we allow them enough time to think about the directions (and finish processing what they are currently doing) before we expect them to be doing what has been asked?

“Slow and steady wins the race,” said the Wise turtle.

What do you think? How has slowing things down helped with the children in your care?

Slow and steady

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Empowering others is one of key goals in “Beyond the 3R’s”. It is about helping individuals have the skills, the knowledge and the confidence to make choices for themselves and to take action. In education this relates to being able to find information, find resources and find solutions as well as to voice one’s opinion and resolve conflicts.

Empowerment is a powerful skill to teach and support but we often undermine our goal by taking care of things ourselves. Sometimes we take charge because of time restraints and it is just faster to do it ourselves. Sometimes we are just not aware that we are doing it. Sometimes it is because we don’t want to give up that role of authority and/or expert.

“Here let me do it” is a fairly obvious dis-empowering statement but we have all used it, I’m sure. “Do this… like this….” – whether the “this” is about building a skill, resolving a conflict, or moving attention from one thing to another. Sometimes the statements are warranted, sometimes they are harmless and sometimes, sometimes they can be those memorable moments for a child that affects their self-esteem, self-image, and self-confidence.

How many conflicts have you stepped into and resolved in one manner or another? How many times have you done the problem-solving? If you are like most of us, it is more times than you care to think about.

The following story is one of my “ah ha” moments when I really understood empowerment:

Two seven-year-old boys, who both had difficulties with self-control and anger management, were playing with some trucks and both wanted the blue one. The push-pull-yell cycle began. I quickly jumped in but not with the intention of putting an end to the conflict. I put my hand on the truck and held it in a neutral position between the two boys.
I asked, “What is going on? What is the problem?”, which was followed by “I want” and “He won’t” statements. I rephrased their answers with something like, “You both want to play with the blue truck.” I paused. “How are we going to solve this?” Immediately I got the “I want”, “He won’t” statements again plus the “He should” solution and they tried to tug the toy away from the other child. I kept my hand firmly on the truck.
“You both want to play with the truck. How are we going to solve this?” Again the responses came with the wants and shoulds. I paused and then again repeated the question.
After about four times the boys paused. One child said, “I guess I could play with the red truck.” And they both sat down, started playing and the conflict was history.

What happened in this situation? Why did these two typically volatile young lads suddenly not only resolve the issue themselves but end up playing like best buddies? Was it that they realized that the adult wasn’t going to solve it for them? Perhaps. It appeared, to me, that they had learned the conflict resolution skills and knew options to try but they were waiting for the adult to step in, to possibly take sides, to do the “who had it first” scenario, to do the thinking, and to resolve the issue – which, by the way, would probably have resulted in two angry boys playing on their own.

How often do we step in before we give children/youth the opportunity to think, to access their tool belt full of options, and to walk through the problem-solving process themselves? Too often, unfortunately.

And, on the flipside, how often do we NOT step in and not give them the tools to use? “They will figure it out” comments while pushing, shoving and yelling is going on isn’t the best practice, if our goal is to teach, guide, and empower. If they had the skills they wouldn’t be resorting to being physical. Perhaps they are lacking options to use or maybe it is the self-control to regain composure in order to think of the options. If they are duking it out, there is something missing and we are needed to help them walk through the situation effectively and respectfully.

“But we have done this before. They know better.” Perhaps they do, but something is missing. Maybe it is just a matter of practice or perhaps maturity. It is interesting that when development is about something physical we can be quite patient, going over the same skills time and time again. Think of teaching a child how to ride a bike without training wheels. “You can do it” – encouragement; we don’t give up on them. “I’ll be right here” – support. “I’ll be hanging on to the seat. Don’t worry.” – trust, hands-on help. “Remember to keep peddling; you have to balance; keep looking ahead.” – reminders. Over and over again. And then we discreetly take our hand off the bike and run along side, being ready to jump back in if needed but letting them go on their own, based on their abilities. And then we stop running along side, knowing that they are on their way. But still we watch, just in case … and then one day, we are no longer needed, as they have mastered the craft of riding a two-wheeler.

It’s impressive. And then we think of social skills, of conflict resolution, self-control, etc. For some reason we are not as patient, supportive, encouraging, or helpful. Why? Well, everyone is different. If you feel that you have missed an opportunity to empower a child, step back and do some self-observation. What were the motivating factors for you? Was it simply awareness? Or was it a lack of skills? Or perhaps it was an inner need for a feeling of authority or being needed? Only you know.

Empowerment – is not just about expecting them to do things on their own. It is about teaching them how, giving them the tools; it is about observing, encouraging, stepping in as needed but being ready to step back out again when they are ready. It is about following their lead and giving them a chance to be successful if only for a brief moment. It is about celebrating those moments and trusting that they can and that they will be able to do it on their own at some point.


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“We” are a community. “We” should be a priority in our daily lives. “We” should be the driving force behind all that we do. “We” should be constantly striving to make our community stronger, healthier and happier.

Community comes in many shapes and forms. It can be a small community of “you and me” or as large as all things in the universe!
Actually, it’s more than “can be”, it is!

community and the fire of truth

Let’s take a closer look at this.

* sharing common values, interests, or environment.

Fire of Truth:
* sharing knowledge, perspectives, Wisdoms, learning from each other, combining the perspectives into a larger understanding of the Truth

How do we use these two concepts and strengthen them within the classroom?
* we build community within the classroom
* we contribute to the local community
* we care for the environment
* we create opportunities for sharing of questions, of knowledge, of ideas etc
* we encourage group play and group projects
* we create projects to donate to the local community – organizations, citizens, etc
* we talk about community
* we develop empathy, and problem-solving skills
* we empower
* we teach “team work”, working together, supporting each other
* we teach and support inter-dependence
* we teach about personal strengths, celebrating the differences
* we teach students to respect each other’s differences
* we teach students to be aware of their own personal strengths and viewpoints
* and … ?

Many years ago I had a preschool class make handprint bookmarks. We later went on a walk to the local library and we donated them. The librarians gave out the bookmarks to visitors.

This activity was so inspiring that it became an ongoing event. We left valentines, lucky shamrocks and decorated baskets of Easter eggs on the doorsteps of our neighbours. We went “trick or treating” but instead of getting treats we gave out goodies to those who answered our knocks. (By this time those at home during the day would be watching for our weekly treks.)

One young man had been in a serious accident and after weeks or months of being bedridden was able to make his way to the door. We heard that on one of his first excursions we were handing out something special. Apparently he cried after we left – the reward for his efforts was the smiles of a group of young ones! Community.

In another classroom, with a group of eleven-year-olds, one young lad had troubles fitting in and was just that odd man out. One day, after “R” had already been sent out to the hallway because of some unwanted behaviour, the teacher was having troubles with a piece of tech equipment and she asked the class, “who can help me out?” In unison, the class responded, “R!” They knew that “R” was the tech wizard, they knew his strengths, his gifts, his talents. They knew who to turn to. Community.

How do you build community within your classroom and local community?
How often do you bring the children together to share their perspectives?
During conflicts do you encourage each participant to verbalize their goals and viewpoints as well as to actively listen to the other person?
While focusing on the individual child’s development do you also plan for community as a whole?

What else can we do to build community? To strengthen the understanding about community? To utilize the Fire of Truth? To develop a better understanding of and a more complete picture of the Truth?

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Getting to know one’s Self and the children in your life takes a little detective work (aka observations). What are we looking for?

The best clues come in the form of habits but you can also keep your eyes open for those unknowns that make you take a second look. These “huh?” moments often go unnoticed, sometimes get a “tsk tsk”, and sometimes jump right into the “ah ha” realization.

The “Huh?” Moments
I read a story once (sorry that I don’t remember the source) about a child who was really struggling in school and the school was struggling with him. After one of his many visits with the principal he was sent back to his classroom. As he was leaving, however, the principal happened to see him reach for the door knob and his hand went inches above the handle. “Huh?” A little detective work and it was found out that the child was dyslexic. And the rest, as you can imagine, is history!

The Habits
“Once” might get overlooked. twice, probably gets a curious look, three times and, now, it has our attention. We could go “old school” and try behaviour modification techniques to change the behaviour but if we are seeking a more “core” understanding, we put our detective work into play to understand the why behind the actions.

Habits can tell us lots about someone, if we take the time to look.

Habits are a like a billboard in flashing lights telling us that something is at play. Perhaps it is learned behaviour; maybe it is a way to get attention, with the child saying “help me” through his/her actions; maybe it is a sign of how the child thinks, interacts with the world; perhaps it is an indication of the child’s core talents, purpose in life; and maybe it is painting a picture of underlying motivations.

What is the motivation behind the behaviour?
* avoiding pain or seeking pleasure?
* survival? power & control? love & belonging? freedom? fun? (Glasser’s Choice Theory)
* the Spiritual Self? (gifts, talents, passions, traits that are part of the individual’s journey)

The Detective Team
Detective work can be a very complicated process and a single pair of eyes usually doesn’t capture all of the nuances. I remember a consultation I was doing and nothing was standing out for me as to what was behind the behaviour that I was called in to observe. After the observation I met with the teacher and during our conversation the teacher shared one little story – ah ha!! The pieces all came together and we were able to move forward with a plan.

The team is not just composed of the teachers involved. Families are an important part of the process. Families hold a big piece of the picture, providing information about what happens away from school plus their personal experiences with the child. Sharing our insights and observations are also an asset to the families and when we mesh the two pictures together we get an even deeper understanding of the what and why.

An example of a piece of the puzzle that can be discovered by sharing with the families is the story of the banana. The classroom teacher observed that some days the child’s morning went well and on other days the mornings were quite challenging. The teacher spoke with the parents about sleep habits, bedtime routine and other factors that could be influencing the difference. Nothing was meshing. Hmmm .. what about breakfast, was he eating well in the mornings? He always had a good breakfast. Ok, that’s not it … and the parent continued: he has cereal and toast and some mornings he gets a banana. …. “some mornings”?? And which mornings were these? A little detective work uncovered the connection between banana mornings and challenging mornings. Ah ha!!! No more bananas for this little guy!

Detective team work… sitting around the “Fire of Truth”, combining observations to get a more complete picture of what is happening. I am reminded of one consultation I had about a five year old who was a little terror in the classroom. His behaviour was out of control. The parents were so upset – what had happened to their sweet little boy? The school staff, although patient, were at their witt’s end and were close to throwing their hands in the air. I was brought into the team and we had a meeting with the parents, the teacher, the school counsellor and the principal.

As we chatted someone would throw out a possible explanation or motivator and then someone else would share a story that contradicted the idea. “Then, no, that’s not it.” Then another possible explanation or strategy that might help was put on the table. One after another, every idea was shown to be ineffective or not fitting the bigger picture.

The little guy suffered from seizures and was on medication. I kept going back to this. No, this wasn’t the problem, I was told. But with options getting slim I had to rule out the medical issue. I spoke with the doctor (who, by the way, was very annoyed that I was asking questions about his prescription – I was NOT a doctor!) but after several persistant phone calls he finally gave in and said that he would check it out. Before he could meet with the family, however, the boy had a 36 hour bout with seizures. Bloodwork showed that the medication was building up in his system creating the behaviour issues and finally the breaking down of his body in the form of the seizure. The silver lining was the discovery of the problem and the solution.

Rule out the physical. Bring other professionals into the team as necessary. Don’t leave any stone unturned.

And speaking of that, we need to also include the child in our team. We need to do this for two reasons: 1) the child has information that he/she alone has and 2) we want the child to become self-aware and empowered.

When you have one of those “huh?” moments or you observe a habit, talk about it with the child. “This is what I’ve noticed. Did you realize that this is happening? What’s going on?” Work together to identify the underlying motivators and then to plan on ways to support, to manage, or to change the behaviour, whatever is the best avenue to help the child walk his/her path in a healthy and effective manner.

Your Experience
Who have you included in your team?
How do you include the families?
How do you include the child?
What “ah ha” moments have you had?

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One of my mentors shared a story with me once – not really a story, just a sentence, but a sentence that held great Wisdom: “You know that he is going to be a leader some day, so we are guiding that.” The story shared was about a four-year-old in a daycare setting.

Think about the children in your care. Can you see signs of their inner gifts? Are there leaders, artists, builders, risk-takers, narrators? Are there extraverts? Introverts? Do you have children who like to take things apart to see how they work? Some who like to sit back and observe?

Identifying “tendencies” is an important part of empowering children and developing their Spiritual Self. This is especially important for those children whose behaviours are challenging. I’m thinking of those risk-takers, for example. Rather than blocking them from climbing on everything or experimenting with anything and everything, we can help them develop safe habits. We need risk-takers and experimenters. The traits are part of these children, it is who they are. We need to not only respect that but empower it.

Program Planning

* Do you have activities, resources, and spaces that are intriguing and supportive of the different individuals in the class?
* Have you also planned for opportunities to practice the “opposite traits”, creating the balance? (The leader getting to follow; the observer being an active participant?)

Personal Interactions
* Along with observing the children you also need to observe your “self”. Are your words and actions empowering or stifling? Are there certain personalities that are triggers for you? How do you make sure that your preferences aren’t roadblocks for children’s growth?
* Are you supporting traits that you, personally, find frustrating, recognizing that they are part of the children’s life journeys and inner purpose?
* Do you describe behaviours, such as “you like to experiment”?
* Do you share your observations with the families, working with them to identify gifts and talents?

Every individual has a unique life path. Our job is not to guide the paths down the same road, but to be the road workers helping the individuals discover their own path and to walk it efficiently and joyously.

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Mental Shift

Yesterday, I had a lovely conversation, although too short, with my daughter, about education and the challenges within the classroom. We touched on a variety of issues, from students relying on outer controls to complete tasks and manage “to do” lists, non-participation, and time.

The overall solution that we came up with was a mental shift. Currently, “we” are so focused on delivering the “what”, the course outlines, that teachers don’t have enough time to address core values and skills. “We” are so focused on the curriculum content that students don’t have enough time to process the information, to really integrate it with their current knowledge and to develop Wisdom. “We” put so much focus on what to think that we lose sight of teaching how to think. “We” have developed an authoritarian hierarchy in the system and have forgotten that we are there for the students and not the other way around. “We” need to make a mental shift.

For this change to happen, the “we” has to include the governing bodies, the administration people, the teachers, the parents/guardians, and the students themselves. Until we are all on the same page, all wanting to achieve the same goal, then our effectiveness will be affected.

I would like to say that “it begins with” … but there is not a source of this shift that makes the difference. Everyone involved has an impact on the outcome of education.

* Students need to see and believe that the education system (and all its components) is there for them as a resource. They need to be empowered to seek knowledge, to seek Wisdom, to access the wise elders, and to utilize the resources at their disposal. They need to see themselves as the ones guiding the process of learning.
* Parents/Guardians need to also see their children as the seekers of knowledge rather than recipients of the education we impose on them. They need to see the education system as a resource that they choose to use, that they want to use, rather than just a part of their children’s lives. Families are the first and biggest force on the “mental shift” of the next generations.
* Educators can make or break the shift. They can empower or they can dominate; they can focus on their own agendas or they can mentor/guide/inspire individual students within the whole. They can light the fire of inspiration or they can snuff it out.
* Administration can support the shift, empower the educators, or they can enforce rules that limit, stifle, and prevent the shift from happening.
* The System can remain stuck in the old ways of content-focus or move to that of process and skill development, of teaching how to learn.

The Mental Shift
* “We” are passing on our Wisdom to the individuals of next generation and providing opportunities for the children/youth to have and learn from as many experiences as possible. “We” are mentoring and guiding individuals not a collective student body.
* Students access education as a resource for their journey of discovering who they are, what they have to offer to the Greater Good, and the skills they need to put the knowledge and Wisdom into practice.

How do we make this shift take place?
First we have to understand it and believe in it. (Awareness & Belief)
Next, we need to let go of motivators that block the change – the need to be seen as an authority, for example. (Motivation)
Then comes the how: using our words and actions to instil and strengthen this perspective in society as a whole, in the policies of the system, and within the children/youth themselves. (Skills)
And the last component of change – Self-Control. We need to keep this shift as our goal with everything we do. It should drive our interactions with students both in and out of the classroom, our curriculum, our observations, and our lesson plans.

Beginning in early childhood
Right from the beginning we need to be planting the seeds of empowerment:
“What is your goal for today?”
“How can I help you?”
“This is my experience and/or my Wisdom. How does that fit with what you know?”
“What, in this situation, do you find intriguing?”
“Where would you like to go with this? What are your questions? Your ideas?”

And… ?
What other strategies can we use to help our children know (and believe) that the education system is a resource for them and not just something they have to do each day?

learning toolkit

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