I am thrilled to announce that the digital version of Teach Kindness First is complete! Woohoo!!! In celebration of this accomplishment, I am making it free to download for a limited time. The mission of this book is to bring more kindness into our daily lives and what better way to achieve that goal than to offer it for free… Please follow this link Amazon.ca and get your free copy – offer available today until Saturday July 22. Please share this link with your friends and family, your Facebook groups, Instagram…You name it! Tag me if you can so that I can witness the journey. =)
If you’ve ever heard a child call himself “stupid” or you’ve witnessed a child burst into tears because the work is too hard, then you have caught a glimpse of the illness that exists in our society and school system. How is it possible for a child of only eight or nine years of age to have such a negative view of himself? Why, instead of approaching a new challenge with confidence would a child feel anxiety? What are we doing wrong?
Some children are naturally more confident or more anxious than others, that’s true. But I firmly believe that when parents and teachers empathize with the child, by trying to understand where the frustration or lack of confidence is coming from, we can build that child up and significantly reduce anxiety levels.
Teachers, the time has come for us to readjust our expectations, not only of ourselves, but of our students and their parents. We need to step back and reevaluate our beliefs and practices. No matter what we dream or imagine for a child, it is not for us to impose our beliefs on them. While parents and teachers ought to expose children to the endless possibilities this amazing world has to offer, children must feel free to dream their own dreams and explore their curiosities.
The standards I set in my classroom are high. Yet, no two students share the exact same set of expectations. Not exactly anyways. Every single one of them is expected to give her best. This best will vary from one day to the next. It will vary from one subject area to another. It will even vary throughout the day depending on fatigue, hunger, motivation, engagement, distraction…
Let go of control. Give children the chance to lead the way in their understanding as much as possible. The act of accepting what is is liberating.
For example, if a student tells me, “I hate writing!”
My response is simply, “That’s okay, you’re allowed to not enjoy writing.”
While I do ask them to rid their vocabulary of the word hate in relation to writing (or anything else for that matter), I do not require them to see themselves as writers.
“You do not see yourself as a writer?”, I say, “That’s okay. Tell me, how do you see yourself? What do you love to do? Do you have dream for your future?”, I implore.
I have yet to meet a student who tells me of a dream for which I cannot find at least one example of how knowing how to write won’t help him to live his dream to the fullest. I find a way to give them a purpose for knowing how to communicate effectively in the written form. I do not insist that they become writers.
The school system is designed to make kids think they have to excel in math, and reading, and writing, and science…This structure does not take into account multiple intelligences. This system does not encourage children to celebrate their uniqueness. We talk about these things, but at the end of the day, we all have to write the same test if we plan to get ahead and be the top of our class…What does it matter to me if the renovators who just updated my kitchen enjoy reading science-fiction or writing poetry? I sure hope they know how to read a ruler and use a drill though! When will we all realize that mastering the basics is essential and the rest can be guided through curiosity, passion, interest and ability? Shouldn’t each child be treated and taught as the unique human being that she is?
The most amazing things happen when we let go of telling children to “try harder” and instead tell them, “It’s okay if you don’t get it right now. It’s also okay if you don’t enjoy this. You don’t need to. Together we’ll try to find ways to help you succeed enough that we both know you will have the skills necessary to achieve your dreams. That’s the big picture. That’s what matters most.”
What I’ve discovered is that when we talk to kids about their dreams, they light up. When we take the pressure off of them to perform to our expectations, they start setting their own goals, in relationship to their own dreams. (This of course, secretly, is our expectation, but they don’t need to know that!) When children know that we only wish to see progress, not perfection, they proudly tell us about their achievements and often, if not always, excel beyond our greatest expectations.
Photo credit goes to Anthony J. D’Angelo at https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/
Original photo credit: Katie Phillips
Parent-Teacher Interviews are just a few days away – here are some useful strategies based in kindness and compassion to help us have meaningful and productive meetings.
For Teachers & Parents: Perhaps we could all be a little more humble.
International Kindness Week has just passed and parent-teacher interviews are upon us. Is it just a coincidence that they occur around the same time of year? Perhaps whoever picked the date was trying to send a message to the most influential people in our children’s lives…What a perfect opportunity to remind ourselves that we should be kind to our fellow human beings, especially our child’s teacher, or alternatively, or students’ parents.
Why so many conflicts?
There are plenty of reasons why parents and teachers get stressed out during interviews, but I believe we can boil it down to one thing: fear of failure. I truly think it’s that simple. It may be the parents who are worried they aren’t doing a good enough job at home, or the teacher who is worried she isn’t effectively…
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When we fail to teach our children a healthy dose of fear, we disable them.
Many times when I share my tough love approach, the parent with whom I am speaking will reply, “But he’s only five!” I get it. The society in which we live defines childhood as a time to be young and free. And to a certain extent, that is how it should be. However the protection of a child’s innocence can sadly and ironically come at the cost of his safety.
It is Kind to be Firm
I still remember clear as day the first time Yasmine refused to hold my hand in the grocery store parking lot. She was two years old and as feisty as feisty gets. Here’s the thing. There are some battles with our children that we need not fight. We can compromise and bend and adapt and…the list goes on. There are some things however that are non-negotiable. The battle that ensued, I mean dialogue, went something like this:
“Give Mommy your hand,” I said sweetly.
“No!!!!” she asserted as she yanked her hand out of mine.
I did not hesitate to grab her firmly by the arm as she started to take off ahead of me. Of course she cried out as if I was hurting her, compelling strangers in the near vicinity to turn and stare.
“I don’t care how loud you cry, Yasmine. It’s my job to keep you safe,” I said, pretending to not care about what others might be thinking of my firm hold on her.
“You’re hurting my arm!” she continued in a loud voice that I knew had the capacity to catch everyone’s attention in a five-mile radius.
“You should be holding my hand like a good listener. I promise you it hurts a lot more to get hit by a car. It’s not you I don’t trust Yasmine. I don’t trust the cars to be able to see you and to be careful around you. I give you lots of choices, all the time, but holding Mommy’s hand in the parking lot is not a choice,” I replied in a firm, confident voice. Of course, my ego was screaming at me to worry about what people around me were thinking. Instead of focussing on the feeling of embarrassment caused by my child’s behavior, I forced myself to be courageous enough to follow through on my beliefs, all the while hoping that perhaps I would inspire other parents to be just as openly firm with their own children. The turning point for me came when I decided to challenge the common belief that our children’s behavior is uniquely a reflection of our parenting skills. It is not. Children will challenge us. They will test the boundaries and often they will do so in the least opportune of places. Too often I see parents put their pride of worrying about what others are thinking first. I get it. But seriously people, this madness has to stop.
She resisted some more, as most toddlers do, but like I said before, there are some battles you simply must not lose. The choice to hold my ground highlights the deepest and truest meaning of kindness. It is the utmost form of kindness to protect my child from the possibility of getting hit by a car. Therefore, as I insisted on the behavior I expected from her, I was sure to let her know that my love for her was my motivation for being so firm.
“Let go!” she cried.
“Are you ready to hold my hand like the good listener you usually are? When you are ready to make the right choice and hold my hand I will be able to let go of your arm. I love you too much to risk seeing you get hurt.”
Needless to say, this went on until we made it to the entrance of the store at which point we had graduated to a new problem. There was no way I was about to put up with her defying me the entire time we shopped, nor was there anyway I was about to use bribery to get her to listen. Instead, I used empathy and natural consequences as a way to persuade her to cooperate.
“Yasmine, you have a choice to make right now because I am done struggling with you. You have never acted like this before and you are certainly not going to start now. We need food for lunch and supper. This is work that Mommy needs to do for the family and I need your help. I know you know how to be a good helper. I have already planned for us to do some fun things this afternoon like playing with playdough and doing puzzles, but do you think I’m going to feel like playing and being kind with you when you can’t be kind with me?”
The mention of her favorite games caught her attention.
“How the rest of the day will go is in your control right now. We can have a good day or a bad day. Cooperate by sitting in the cart and by helping me to get some yummy food for home and we will get to have a good day. If you cannot be kind and cooperate, we are going to go home and you will sit alone in your room for a long time (keep in mind 10 minutes feels like an eternity to a toddler). I will not want to play with you because I will be too upset about your behavior.”
This form of clear communication works better than you might think. She did as was expected of her and I followed through on playing fun games with her after lunch. Do not mistake that for bribery or manipulation. There is a fine line between bribery and natural consequences, but it is essential we understand the difference if we are to effectively teach through kindness and empathy.
It is the utmost form of kindness to teach our children limits. It is also kind to model natural emotional reactions for our kids. When I explained to Yasmine that I would not feel like playing with her later, that would be true of most people, including our friends. In this way, I am teaching her that when you upset somebody, their feelings are hurt and they may not want to spend time with you. This is not the same as denying love to your child. It all comes down to your approach. If Yasmine had chosen to defy me rather than cooperate, I would have sternly marched her back to the car, returned home in a stony silence and plucked her down in her room. She would have stayed there until she was ready to apologize for the way she had acted. I would have checked in with her every couple of minutes, since she was quite young after all, but the scenario would only draw to an end once she finally gave in and sincerely apologized. (Yes, toddlers know the difference between real and fake apologies.) We would then have devised a plan for how she must behave in the future. She would have had to say in her own words that she was going to listen and be helpful. The act of explaining the plan herself would allow her to feel ownership of it, thereby making her feel like she was in control of the situation, which is all any toddler ever really wants, right?
Now, you may be thinking that’s a serious amount of effort to get your child to simply hold your hand in a parking lot. Is it really worth it? It was a couple of years later when I heard the tragic news that a young girl had lost her life when she was hit by a car in a parking lot not far from where we live. She had slipped away from her mother. I was not there. Please do not misunderstand me. I make no assumptions as to how this tragedy played itself out. Horrible, terrible, unthinkable accidents happen all the time. I speak from my own painful memories when I say: it is easy to say to ourselves, “It won’t ever happen to me,” or “Relax, let’s not over-react.” Call me paranoid, but it when it comes to the scary stuff we need to protect our kids from, a healthy dose of fear can mean the difference between life and death. The courage to discipline my child in front of strangers came from me saying to myself, “I much prefer to see my child ‘suffer’ in the safety of her bedroom than risk losing her forever.” So much in life is a mystery and completely out of our control. That precious child who lost her life at the tender age of three may have completed her soul’s mission. Perhaps it was meant to be. As I said, I withhold all judgement and I pray that her mother has found peace.
When Yasmine and I returned from the grocery store that day, I congratulated her on making the right decision. I was proud of her for using her brain to understand what was best. And I explained to her that parking lots can very dangerous. Getting hit by a car means she may stop breathing, and if she stops breathing, she may never see Mommy or Daddy again. That is an honesty that our children need to hear. A healthy dose of fear can keep our babies safe. Let’s stop being so scared of what others will think of us, and start being more scared of the possible consequences of inaction. Nobody ever wants to think the worst, but prevention and awareness are our greatest tools for keeping the worst at bay.
In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
– Thomas Jefferson
Photo credit for Safety Pins goes to Emilian Robert Vicol on http://www.flickr.com
There is something magical and exciting about starting fresh each fall with a new group of students. The first day of class is always exciting and nerve-wracking. I have yet to sleep soundly the night before I meet my new students. First impressions matter. I am not talking about the impressions that they will make on me. I am an adult, so I know better than to take any of their potentially challenging behaviors to heart. I realize that by the time they arrive in my care, they already have dozens of preconceived ideas, feelings, emotions and behaviors in relation to school. For all the anxiety I feel, I can only imagine what some of them are going through.
For all of these reasons and more, I greet my students with an open-hearted smile and make eye contact with each and every one of them as they choose a seat. Once they are seated and I have their attention, I begin my introductory speech, “Welcome to grade three! I can only imagine how each of you is feeling. Many of you are excited; others are nervous. Some of you love school and are thrilled to be back, others may not be very happy about being here. I can understand that. My ultimate mission is to make each and every one of you feel excited about school. Absolutely everybody has a special gift or talent to share with the world.
“Now, there may be someone here thinking, ‘She doesn’t mean me, though.’ Yes, I do! Everyone, especially you! You may not have discovered your gift yet, but I promise you, you have one, if not several. This year, each day will be filled with new opportunities to discover our strengths and our talents. School is not always easy, but the challenges can be fun if we choose to look at them that way. You must always feel safe to ask your questions. You are in a space that tolerates nothing less than 100% respect, kindness, and open-mindedness. It is by being a risk-taker that each of you will grow in your learning.
“I’m sure you know of teachers who believe in being very serious with their students. They don’t smile or tell jokes for at least the first month or two of the school year. I suppose they believe this is the best way to show the students who is in charge. Maybe that works for them but I do not see things that way. To me, every day is a gift for which we ought to be grateful. We will be spending five days a week together, morning until afternoon. As far as I’m concerned that makes us a family, and when I’m with my family, I like to feel happy, joyful and relaxed. I will greet you every day with a smile. I will exercise patience and I will use humor to help guide you in your learning. I wish I could say I never lose my patience. I wish I could say I never raise my voice. The fact is, I’m human and I have emotions, too, just like you. No matter what though, I promise you to always be my best, even if my best is not always the same from one day to the next, and I ask the same of you. When I make a mistake, I will apologize for it. Pobody’s nerfect, right? (pause) Get it? PO-body’s NER-fect?”
I always give them a moment for the play on words to sink in. Eventually, as comprehension dawns on a handful of children, they spontaneously volunteer their understanding to the rest of the group. “Ooooooh, Nobody’s perfect! Hahaha!” I love this moment so much. The joke may not be that funny, but the intention is understood. As laughter and smiles spread throughout the room, the positive energy that is connecting us to one another is palpable. This talk sets a precedence and a standard for the year. My message is clear: I care about being a caring teacher, and I care about them feeling comfortable in this space. Moreover, they see that laughter is not only welcome in our class, it’s a must.
To wrap everything up before moving on to our next activity, I tell them, “I am so looking forward to getting to know each and every one of you. I sincerely believe that each of you has been brought into my life for a reason. In fact, we are all in each other’s lives for a reason. We will all have things to learn from one another this year, of that I am certain. I see it as a privilege to be given the chance to be your teacher and I promise I will teach you to the best of my ability. All I ask in return is that you promise to be your best as learners, which means showing up to class with an open mind. I am really excited about this year!”
In case you haven’t noticed, I am really proud of this speech and I think I have good reason to be. For one, it has taken me years to refine the balance between being caring and having a loving approach, and being firm and setting high expectations for both myself and the students. I am 100% convinced that this is the healthiest route to take with children. We should not be waiting for children to show us respect before they gain it from us. We ought to offer and demonstrate respect to them so that they have a proper example of what it looks like. We need to stop assuming that children should know better. Maybe they don’t. Certainly, we are all able to conjure up images of adults being rude and even mean to children. If the majority of the adults in a child’s life have been better at preaching than teaching (i.e. do as I say, not as I do), then be grateful that you have the opportunity to be the best role model yet for this child. What an amazing privilege. Consider the place you will hold in that child’s heart knowing that you may have been the first adult to truly connect with him in a kind, loving, and respectful way.
One of the most effective ways to nip problems in the bud is to not really expect any in the first place. Instead, we must focus our energy on letting the children know what kind of behavior is expected. The beauty lies in the fact that whatever we expect of them is exactly what they can expect of us. As we set limits for ourselves, we simultaneously set them for all the other people involved in this ten month journey.
I will leave you with this parting thought:
The more we resist the child who stands before us, the more likely we will struggle indefinitely with her, whereas the better we become at accepting a child as he is, the more likely we will be able to effect positive change in his life.