“Teachers expect kids to act like adults, but they treat them like children.”
These are the frustrated words from a mature grade seven student. When asked for an example, she said, “I remember in kindergarten sharing ideas and dreams with my teacher, and she would respond by saying, ‘That’s nice, dear. Why don’t you go and draw a picture about it.’” I then asked how her teacher could have responded differently. She said, with a degree of irritation, “All she had to say was, ‘Tell me more about it.’”
*** Scroll to the bottom to read 15 Questions Kids Hunger to Hear ***
In the same way that recess is learning, engagement is teaching.
“Conversation is gold. It’s the most efficient early-learning system we have. And it’s far more valuable than most of the reading-skills curricula we have been implementing: One meta-analysis of 13 early-childhood literacy programs ‘failed to find any evidence of effects on language or print-based outcomes.’ Take a moment to digest that devastating conclusion…One major study of 700 preschool classrooms in 11 states found that only 15 percent showed evidence of effective interactions between teacher and child. Fifteen percent.” ~ Erika Christakis, The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that the secret of education lies in respecting the student. Yet, how much respect is shown if we regularly fail to engage a kid’s thoughts, feelings, imagination and creativity through the basics of conversation; if we hold them small, and brush off their earnest agendas with our own?
There is nothing wrong with suggesting to kids that they draw up their ideas and dreams. But if we routinely direct before we connect, not only do kids feel unheard, and potentially undervalued, but an opportunity to create and deepen the teacher-student bond is also missed. Over time, school can feel rote—a dry, outcome oriented experience that erodes self-esteem and the desire to learn.
Kids will disengage, feel frustrated, perhaps angry, their humaneness reduced to a product, with the process of connection and expanding thoughts and feelings taking a back seat.
In my interviews with kids, this is what I hear happening.
Making attachment a priority
“Connection precedes learning.” ~ Mariah Moser
Research now tells us that what supports child learning and development, first and foremost, is a healthy attachment, or connection. Taking time to simply be with a child in her unique world/process—receiving her without outcome—may do more for this small human being’s learning and development than any task or project. We are learning that without a secure attachment, combined with developmentally inappropriate curricula, developmental trauma can form.
Understanding this means we may need to manage our impulse, and loosen our agendas, to quickly move children forward—to direct. If less is accomplished, so be it. If the classroom has a diminished display of craft projects strung around for parents and teachers to see, perhaps that is for the better.
But this is difficult if the institution clutters classrooms with a 30:1 ratio of students to teachers, and plagues teachers with a litany of learning outcomes. It’s also a challenge if teachers are measured by what their student’s produce, and if pressuring parents come to class wondering what their little Cindy has done all day.
“What was once educationally significant, but difficult to measure, has been replaced by what is insignificant and easy to measure. So now we test how well we have taught what we do not value.” ~ Art Costa, Emeritus Professor, California State University
Being with what’s here now
“To take children seriously is to value them for who they are right now rather than adults-in-the-making.” ~ Alfie Kohn
We live in a product-obsessed world forgetful of the immeasurable qualities and possibilities held in connection and being in process. The heart of education and life is feeling a sense of belonging through bonding with others, and feeling free to explore and create, moment-to-moment, at our own pace. Here we find our greatest joy—being present, in relationship, heard, felt, expressed and understood. We allow our ideas to unfold organically into a medium that works best for us.
And it’s here that we learn and develop most. Because by giving ourselves over to the power of what’s here now, we allow ample safety and room for what wants to emerge. Process naturally leads to product if we take time to engage ideas and feelings, dance in uncertainty, and not rush kids off to make something of their bubbling inner reality.
This does not mean we don’t direct and suggest, or offer provocations and structure. It simply means we grant greater faith to our innate emerging intelligence to lead, and the power of conversation to reveal, deepen and gently shape hidden agendas wanting to take form in their unique way and timing.
It’s a whole new way of engaging and teaching, one that demands major systemic and mindset change.
“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.” ~ Loris Malaguzzi
It begins with the human being
“Every day, in a 100 small ways, our children ask, ‘Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do I matter?’ Their behavior often reflects our response.” ~ L.R. Knost
A world that forgets how to be a human being will forget what matters, and struggle to be in life-giving relationships with other human beings. The human doing will supersede the human being with its fears, controls, pressured expectations and bottomless pit of products leading the way.
Respectful engagement of human beings begins inside us. To the extent that we identify ourselves and live as human doings, we treat children as if they are human doings as well. We direct others as we direct ourselves. But if we remember that we are human beings, and sensitize to the rich complexity of what it means to be human, including our deeper emotional and developmental needs, our wounds and boundless imagination, our relationships with kids hold the promise of greater depth, closeness, patience, kindness and compassion. We offer out what we have learned to offer within.
The etymology of “education” comes from the Latin, “educere”, which means to “draw out”.
This is a relationship-based, heart-based system I speak of, one I believe kids and adults hunger for more than ever. It’s one where the simple gifts of patience, listening and genuine curiosity do their magic, inviting intelligence and resourcefulness to come out and play and lead the way. It’s one where a kid’s voice and ability to articulate are encouraged, and grow with confidence. And it’s one where an internal locus of control is nurtured so kids can self-direct, self-regulate, attune to their intuition, and further explore what wants to awaken within.
Kids like my grade seven friend are frustrated for good reason. They are sick and tired of being told what to think and do. Their irritation asks, “Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do I matter?”
Are you listening?
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15 Questions Kids Hunger to Hear
- What’s important to you about that?
- What stood out to you?
- What are you passionate about?
- What do you think?
- What did you discover?
- What was the best part about that?
- What was that like for you?
- What do you want more of?
- What do you need?
- What does your heart tell you?
- How do you see it?
- What does it feel like? / How did it make you feel?
- What did it make you wonder about?
- What did you learn?
- How can I help?
“The deepest language of all is the language of relationships. It goes much deeper than the more easily measured skills like logical thinking and problem solving. Learning is about making relationships and this is the language that enables us to absorb information and process it at a deep level.” ~ Susan Fraser
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults