Seasonal changes in classroom dynamics
This week has been really amazing for me. Just seeing how grounded the social interactions have been in our philosophy and what we want for the children. Strong assertiveness coupled with sensitive responsiveness is something I aspire to myself with other adults as the children are modeling it right before me.
As a teacher, I'm constantly looking at ways I can grow in how I support the children's optimal development. As we move into a time of year when the group has congealed and created their own unique group dynamic, different from any other constellation of children before them, they get into a very comfortable space where they test each other's limits and even test their own limits. What we often see this time of year leading into January is that the kids start exploring power dynamics. The good thing is they are so motivated to continue their games that they often self-correct and find their own answer to the question "where does my power end and yours begin?”
We've also seen a lot of bossiness arising. This is simply because they have strong opinions and haven't gotten to practice how to express them appropriately. They need practice!
My knee-jerk impulse is to shut it down. Pat phrases like "use a gentle voice" or "have a calm body" or "say that again more beautifully" solve one problem, but it's not the problem that Beansprouts wants to solve for the kids. The problem it solves? My need for them to talk the way I want them to (aka my need to control them).
The real problem? Helping them find an appropriate expression of power. They can express emotions and opinions while keeping others emotionally and physically safe. I trust them to be able to do this, so I don't have to hold their hand and lead them step by step (though some younger twos may require this). I trust that if I offer gentle parameters to what's appropriate and inappropriate, they will figure it out. I don't want to undermine my trust in them by sending a message that they are incapable of handling their own internal and external stuff. If I over-explain, over-empathize, I'm communicating my lack of trust in their ability to get thru it.
THAT SAID, they also need to know that ultimately we are there to support them.But when faced with situations involving strong emotions — rather than correcting their tone/body language, I'm trying to do more acknowledging of their need to express something big. I absolutely hate when I feel a big feeling and have no outlet. sometimes I need to swear or cry or shout. and...there are appropriate ways of doing that. I'm not gonna do it in front of the kids, or lash out at the bank teller. It's my job to find ways to appropriate handle my feelings even if they are overwhelming.
With the kids, statements of acknowledgment might be — "it sounds like you have something really important to say" or "you're feeling big feelings, but we need to find another way to express them" or simply "can you say how you feel without yelling at other people?". They don’t have the luxury of years of developing impulse control, and may need to be given some leeway, but eventually they will establish their own ways to cope if we can just hold the safe and loving (and reliable and firm), space to do so.
It sounds so basic, like preschool teaching 101, yet it’s something I must continually look at in order to avoid falling into bad habits.