I have observed many, many management systems in early childhood classrooms over the years. From stoplights, to frogs on lily pads, to worms in apples, to smiles and frowns and stickers. Intricate systems that teachers work hard on planning, dedicating classroom wall space to, cutting out, and creating. The problem is… as we are creating and cutting out, are we really thinking about what these systems are teaching? What they are based on? Encouragement? Humiliation? Are they actually building coping skills, prosocial behaviors, and community? As you create and cut out and implement your system, what is the real goal?
I remember when my niece was in 1st grade…excited, loving school….adoring her teacher. I called her one afternoon to ask how her school day had gone. In a nervous, quiet voice she replied “not very good.” I asked her what had happened and she began to tell me, through gut wrenching sobs, that her teacher had moved her frog off of the lily pad. I asked her why and she said, still sobbing, that she had been talking on the large group carpet. Even though I hate these systems with every fiber of my being, I told her that sometimes we all talk when we shouldn’t and that her teacher had only moved her frog to help remind her to listen in large group. Her sobs slowed slightly and she said “so do you think she is mad at me?” To which I explained I was certain she was not and everything would be fine tomorrow. Then in her sweet, quiet voice she said “do you think she will forgive me?”
As we work so hard on our system are we thinking about the little individuals we are serving? Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that there are challenging behaviors in every classroom, but have you ever noticed the most challenging behaviors usually could care less if you move their frog from the lily pad? What is the system teaching? Who is it crushing? How is it building coping skills and empathy and community?
So maybe as we begin this year….use the system creating time to instead think about those little precious individuals who adore you and how you can support and encourage them, create a classroom community that builds empathy, confidence, and cooperation…a community that gives grace and second chances.
Nancy Latham is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Early Childhood Program at Illinois State University