I have been working with a new coteacher the past few months. Before I get ahead of myself let me take a moment to explain what a coteacher is (because you may not be familiar and it makes my Word spell check freak out every time I type it.) The ratio of teachers to children in our classroom is 1 teacher to 9 children. We can have 18 children in our room so that entails the need of two teachers. We do not operate on the lead teacher/teacher’s aide roles. We want both teachers in the room to feel an equal sense of importance and responsibility, much like the children. Therefore we are known as coteachers, equal partners in a room working together.
So… I have been working with a new coteacher for the past few months. My last coteacher I worked with had been with me for 2 years, long enough to get comfortable, get in a groove, become an organic team where neither one of us has to think, we just do and it all works out beautifully, 98% of the time. You are viewed by the children as one team, consistent and predictable. When you get a new coteacher you have to start all over again. It’s been hard, really hard, on both of us. We are almost 2 months into our work together and we are finally coming to a place of understanding both with each other and with the Greenies. After you have been doing this work for years you take for granted how much you had to learn yourself at the beginning.
After some reflection and observation of my new co, I feel that I have pinpointed the most important skill a person new to our profession needs… it’s not discipline… not how to manage a room… but how to talk to children. Plain and simple. Well, not exactly simple, talking to kids is not a simple thing to do. Kids are interesting creatures with priorities, needs and views different from our own.
Our latest focus is how to talk to kids so they will cooperate. The first thing we need to understand is that we cannot make children do anything, we have to deliver the requests in ways that will help the children understand why they need to help out and lead them to making the proper decision. The second thing we need to understand is children need constant assurance. Children thrive on feeling secure, that, like Bob Marley tells us, every little thing is gonna be alright. The need to feel safe and secure is a basic human need and that is a top need for children. With that in mind we come to the third thing to remember- the priorities of children and our sense of priority are two completely different things. If you think that Jimmy is going to pick coming to the bathroom before rest time as requested over looking at his friends new comic book you are w-r-o-n-g. So, how do we help Jimmy make his way to the bathroom before rest time begins and successfully pull him away from the comic book while avoiding a pre-nap meltdown?
Step 1- Make a request in a positive, factual way. “Jimmy, it’s your turn to come to the bathroom before rest time begins.” We will avoid making a declaration or using a destructive request- “Jimmy, I need you to come to the bathroom NOW.” Destructive requests are harsh and usually cater to our needs, not the childrens. If we want Jimmy to cooperate we will put it in a way that is positive and helps him understand that it is a task that belongs to him. He owns this task; we are just guiding him towards making the appropriate choice.
Step Two- Reassigning priority. Jimmy has heard that it is his turn to come to the bathroom however that comic book is holding him fast. This comic book has top priority over the need to take his turn in the bathroom before the two hour quiet time begins. In Jimmy’s mind, him coming to the bathroom means that he is leaving the comic book FOREVER. We often forget how “life or death” these small things are to children. We know the comic book will not go away and he may return to it when he is done, but Jimmy doesn’t know that. He needs a reminder. “Jimmy, when you are done in the bathroom you can return to the comic book.”
Step Three- Sense of Security. With some luck and lots of practice Jimmy will be in the bathroom now. But maybe not. We might need to reassure Jimmy that he will not miss out on anything while he completes his task. “Jimmy, I can see how much you enjoy the comic book. I will take good care of it for you while you are in the bathroom. When you are done taking your turn you can come back to the comic book.” Also, in my experience, children seem to be more compliant if there is a positive end to our requests of them. I encourage my coteacher to “put the frosting on the top.” End each request with the positive outcome of the task, that is what will stick. Think about it, which is more appealing to you:
“You can have your book after you finish going to the bathroom.”
“When you finish going to the bathroom you can come back to your book.”
A minor difference with a big impact! I promise!
Children who are older and more mature may not need as much prompting, but it never hurts to take the time to make thoughtful, respectful requests. Speaking to children is an art form and if done in an intentional way we can create cohesive partnerships and gain cooperation in a positive way. Put the frosting on the top! (After all, who doesn’t like frosting?)