You’re driving on the interstate, keeping up with traffic, when you see a police officer with a radar gun aimed right at your car. Does your right foot automatically go to the brake? Do you nervously look in the rearview mirror to see if the police car pulled out onto the interstate? Now imagine that the interstate is a classroom, and the teacher is the police officer. Doesn’t it feel some days that you’re “keeping the peace” rather than facilitating learning?
Sometimes a police officer can cause more trouble than they prevent. When you see the officer with the radar gun on the interstate, you might slam on your brakes, no matter your speed. The same goes for other drivers. You get nervous when you see the police car! Teachers can sometimes have the same effect on children.
“I will give this block to you but don’t throw it.” “I’ll get out the markers, but don’t draw on yourself.” “We can go outside, but I do not want to see you climb up the slide!” Sometimes we give children so many rules to follow that it’s difficult for them to know what to do to be successful. Walking feet, gentle touches, don’t throw. Can we keep children safe and still allow them to be creative with their choices, decisions and activities?
I often challenge teachers to sit back and observe. Watch what the children are doing before jumping in. When a toddler in your classroom wants to touch an infant, wait. Maybe they will stroke their cheek, or hold their hand. If the toddler starts to pull the infant’s lips, then intercede and encourage the toddler to use gentle touches. When you talk to children, tell them what they can do, not always what they shouldn’t do. When you’re going outside, mention the weather, talk about the fresh air, show excitement for being able to run. As the children are playing with the blocks, talk to them about what they are constructing, not about throwing blocks. Challenging behaviors are going to surface, but wait and see what the children are doing before assuming the worst! Set up opportunities for children to be successful, and you can learn together when it’s the best time to put on the brakes.