WELL, yes, that can be a problem, but with a gentle mindset adjustment the fact that kids pay so much attention to each other can turn into a powerful teaching aid that works to everyone’s benefit… yours and theirs.
Children’s early education is enriched by playing together with classmates. Each conversation, whether talking about the class pet or deciding which color block to put on top of the tower they’re building together, or who gets to be IT when they’re playing Hide N Seek helps children develop their thoughts, their language, their sense of themselves and how to best connect with others. This is a deeply important dimension of young kids’ development, and interacting with peers, with classmates, is really the only way those discoveries can be made. I mean, right?HOW ELSE CAN IT HAPPEN?
Children, like all of us – as scientific research reveals – want and need to BELONG. As educators, we have a profound responsibility to nurture healthy belonging amongst our students. The kind of belonging that builds on the best, on the healthiest, on the most positive and most constructive of children’s shared values and perspectives.This is not going to happen with lectures.This is going to happen by creating consistent opportunities for kids to DISCOVER TOGETHER how much they have in common, in terms of their own honest feelings, understanding, values, and insights.
Sounds good, right?Next question: How to make that happen?Good question… in fact, questions are so often the answer, IF they’re the right kinds of questions, and IF they’re asked with the right mindset, within the right context.We’ll get into all those IF’s in future podcasts, but for now, the ‘the right context’ is groups of kids pondering their answers, and responding to those right kinds of questions TOGETHER.Gotta love those CIRCLE TIMES, eh?!!!
It’s easier than it sounds … and the healthy belonging that can be nurtured is everyone’s reward.
On a more serious note, if healthy belonging is not nurtured in the earliest years of children’s development, is it such a mystery that feelings of isolation (not belonging), when ignored, devolve into the kind of mental torment that motivates some kids to use guns against their fellow students and against their teachers? This is an issue we need to reverse-engineer, starting with our youngest students.
By ages 3 and 4 children are starting to identify and verbalize an ever-widening range of emotions…. By ages 5 and 6 they are, we know only too well, testing boundaries, yet they are still quite eager to please and to help out.The commonality of the healthiest of their natural tendencies can be made more conscious amongst your group of students for everyone’s benefit, as I’ve mentioned before.
For now, we just wanted to smash that myth that children pay too much attention to each other and not enough attention to teachers. You CAN stop resisting that fact of life and make friends with it for the happiest and healthiest of Win-Win’s in your classroom.
If you’re enjoying this blog, why not subscribe, then you’ll automatically receive the next Myth about Social Emotional Learning, which is:Teachers need to be in control of children’s understanding about right and wrong. Wouldn’t you love to see how that myth, too, can be blasted for everyone’s benefit? Of course, and heck yes, right?Who wouldn’t prefer to teach smarter, rather than harder?Subscribing is super easy, so is sharing this blog with fellow teachers.
Parkland’s shooting is the most recent reminder that we have a chronic anger problem in our country.
Enacting sensible gun laws will be a necessary and constructive step forward for our country, but we can do more … much more.
We want to blame the NRA and the politicians for defending what, in our minds and hearts, is indefensible. If only legislators would pass more sensible gun laws, we want to believe that the curse of ongoing atrocities would be lifted from our country; but more is needed … much more.
Time to process
First, we need time to process the crushing incomprehensibility of yet another act of violence. One of the most difficult pieces of ‘processing’ is forgiveness. Scarlett Lewis, the mother of 6-year old Jesse Lewis (shot down in the Sandy Hook tragedy), is a living example of forgiveness in action. Her message is healing and deeply important.
Without accepting the challenge of forgiveness, how can we expect life to move forward and build better tomorrows? Watch Brené Brown’s short explanation about the essential, yet not-so-obvious elements of true, life altering forgiveness.
Is understanding possible, or even necessary?
Is it even possible to understand the toxic mix of emotions that sometimes transform into anger … which, over time, transforms into murderous rage? Understanding might be too much of a stretch for most of us, but that doesn’t excuse us from acknowledging – and constructively responding to – difficult truths.
Unprocessed experiences and emotions
Mental health issues as a ‘go-to’ answer dooms us to loose and sloppy responses. “Framing the conversation about gun violence in the context of mental illness does a disservice both to the victims of violence and unfairly stigmatizes the many others with mental illness,” says American Psychological Association President Jessica Henderson Daniel, and “… it does not direct us to appropriate solutions to this public health crisis.”
Acknowledging the role of shooters’ unprocessed experiences and emotions is a first step towards neutralizing the root causes of their explosive violence.
Sheriff’s offices got at least 18 calls about the Parkland shooter over the past decade. Those calls described guns in his possession, threats and violence. It got so bad that some teachers even went so far as to ban him from their classrooms. “Looking in his eyes, he just looked like there was a problem,” one teacher told The Washington Post.
Developmental delays are not meaningfully corrected with punishments. Expulsion, rejection, and exclusion do not help. Those responses from teachers and classmates only exacerbate problems – as we have witnessed too many times.
There are, though, constructively pre-emptive approaches, available for K-12 students that have been shown to ease the isolation, frustration and dis-empowerment resulting from warped perspectives on reality. When groups of young students consistently exercise, together, their innate reasoning and perspective-taking skills while focusing on age-appropriate challenges, unimagined (yet hoped for) alignments and connections develop.
The TOGETHER element is essential. Absolutely essential.
Collaborative problem-solving experiences, when age-appropriately relevant, (without intrusive, judgmental, or lecture-y comments from adults) does more to ‘build belonging’ than any structured curriculum ever could. Why? Because, as Dr. Lilian Katz’ research has documented:
“The younger children are, the more they learn from interactive experiences, rather than passive experiences.”
Solving age-appropriate challenges in collaboration with peers builds belonging by building mutual-respect along with self respect… experiences, we can all agree, are totally lacking in school shooters’ lives.
“Children who are generally disliked, who are aggressive and disruptive, who are unable to sustain close relationships with other children, and who cannot establish for themselves a place in the peer culture are seriously at-risk for the rest of their lives. The elements of social competence are not usually learned through instruction, or lessons, or lecturing, or preaching.
“Scolding or preaching about being ‘nice’ is the wrong content for relationships between adults and children.”
~ Dr. Lilian Katz
Even very young children resist being told what to do, how to think, and how to behave all of the time. Children are, though, completely open to, and interested in, collaborative problem solving around challenges that matter to their own well-being. It is an instinctive/primitive approach to real learning which, by the way, is conclusively validated by contemporary brain science. Putting into action, which includes giving personal voice to, personal understanding is one of the most efficient approaches to building real understanding that is really used.
Neuronal connections that can save lives
Amygdalae, small almond-shaped areas of the brain, located deep within the limbic system, receive all incoming signals from the environment in about 20 milliseconds. The pre-frontal cortex, where logic and self-regulation reside, receive those same signals about 280 milliseconds after the amygdalae… putting the pre-frontal cortex at a serious disadvantage for responding in the most well-reasoned and appropriate ways.
The result, when mindfulness practices and shared-thinking opportunities are experienced on a regular basis: walls of separation and isolation are dismantled, while connections between students’ prefrontal cortex (executive functioning) and amygdala are strengthened – due to an increase of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), the calming neurotransmitter. Emotions are still felt, but they no longer have the power to consume, because neuronal connections to constructive options have been physically built up in the ‘hard-wiring’ of the brain … something lectures are incapable of accomplishing.
“Neuroscience tells us that positive emotions are generated in the brain when students develop their own ideas.” – Prof. James Zull
Real solutions exist, AND THEY NEED TO BE IMPLEMENTED NOW!
Young students need to directly experience feeling included, feeling that they belong … and we need to accept our responsibility to consistently provide those types of nurturing experiences in order to neutralize the toxic build-up of anger that is so impossibly, heartbreakingly destructive.
Shared-Thinking Circle Times for 4-year old’s Social-Emotional Learning
By the age of 4, kids are ready to share with peers, in circle time, how much they know and how self-sufficiently they can choose behaviors that work best for everyone! They just need (and want) to be respectfully and appropriately challenged!
Kids also want and need to be acknowledged for what they understand, what they perceive as real, true and valid … and they need to express what they understand with their own words … with a group of peers … in neutral shared-thinking class time opportunities – facilitated by adults who, just during these times, do not have the intention to be teaching, but instead have the intention to give all of their attention.
How many times have you read or heard about children ‘just behaving this way or that for attention?’ As if their efforts to gain your attention were a negative. Turns out that the more we learn about all the elements of healthy early childhood development, the more we come to appreciate the value of honoring children’s basic instincts, such as their natural need for quality attention.
Validating Proof from History and Human Biology
After World War II, orphans living in a clean, hygienic and basically attentive facility did not thrive. In fact, almost half of infants died, despite apparently having all basic needs met. It turned out that the infants needed at least one meaningful relationship with a caring, and involved adult in order to survive, grow and thrive. Since then, we have learned that Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released in a manner directly proportional to the amount of caring attention children receive.
Quality of Teacher’s Attention Matters
It is now clearly understood that the quality of the attention children receive from their educators more often than not gives rise to repeated behaviors, as compared to ignored or unnoticed behaviors. Sooooo … if we are giving our attention – yes, just simply our undivided attention – when kids are thinking together about positive and constructive solutions and outcomes to which they can all relate, surely it should come as no surprise that those solutions rapidly translate into behaviors by the children who – in constructive collaboration – gave voice to those solutions.
Young children, even by age 4, generally have strong reactions to always being told what to do … especially when it comes to their feelings and their interactions with others. Their strong reactions often show up as challenging behavior, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It really doesn’t.
From Challenging to Cooperating
The key to successfully creating more cooperation in early childhood environments is to provide young learners with multiple opportunities to discover how much they have in common with peers. This very practical approach is NOT achieved with lectures, books or videos … at least not nearly as effectively as it is achieved with peer group discussions.
We were never blank slates!
When children are treated as blank slates, most of them automatically resist. It’s almost as if they’re wired to resist … but is that such a terrible thing? Well, sure, it can be, when resistance turns into challenging behavior. But resistance can be interpreted as a signal that children have a solid sense of who they are and how “things” should be. Rather than treating children like blank slates who need to be taught everything, especially when it comes to their behavior, wise educators use relevant peer group discussions as one powerful key to successful turnarounds in their students’ behavior.
Five easy keys to designing successful peer group discussions
Make sure discussions never, ever isolate or point to specific individuals.
Use visual examples of the topic around which you want your students to discover solutions, (Google IMAGES is a great resource for pictures of: pushing, not sharing, pulling cat’s tail, street safety issues, whispering in front of others etc., etc.) but …
… do NOT start discussions about specific behaviors – even though you’re showing a picture of that behavior. Instead, start discussion with broad where, what, who or how’s the kids will easily succeed at identifying and describing. (Neutral successes are important at this point.)
After a few of those kinds of questions, then everyone is ready to “unpack” what’s going on in the picture you’ve shown them… just be sure the questions are open-ended and non-leading! If ever the questions you ask are not open-ended, then be quick to follow with, “Why is that your answer?” or “Will you tell us why you think that?”
Paraphrase kids’ answers. Of course, that doesn’t mean ‘parrot’ their answers. It means saying, in your own words, what you think each child said for the purpose of making sure you really understood. (Other benefits of this 5th key: √Fully acknowledges each student’s contribution to the discussion. √Keeps you really, reeeeeally listening. √Because they’ll be especially interested in how you paraphrase their thoughts, when you add vocabulary-enriching synonyms for their most commonly used words they’ll be paying LOTS of attention.)
We all want to belong, and – actually – we all pretty much do… we just need to discover that fact together.
When you get right down to it, we all have a lot more in common than we have differences that separate us. For instance, none of us likes to be interrupted or pushed. None of us really likes to fight or interact with people who don’t consider fairness a value to live by… but …
… trying to reasonably and logically explain that to young kids, who function mostly out of the emotional part of their brains, is rarely – if ever – productive.
The good news is: getting groups of kids engaged in discussions around subjects that really matter to them, with questions that communicate respect for their intelligence and collaborative problem solving abilities …. well, that’s a horse of a different color !!!