Monday, August 3, 2015

The Comparison Game

It's back to school time here. Teachers and kids are headed back to the classroom this week!

As I think about teachers and a new year, I think about my four-year-old friend from VBS this summer. He told me on the last day: "You are the best Mr. Scott ever!"

That's what I want to be - the best Mr. Scott ever - the best I can be as a teacher.

Too often we teachers fall into the comparison game. "My room doesn't look like hers." "His kids are so much quieter walking in the hall." "Her kids are all learning faster than my class."

This is a dangerous game. I know. I've done it. I still do it from time to time.

But guess what? I shouldn't try to beat someone at their game. I should be the best teacher I can be. That means being the teacher that meets my personality and skills.

I am not a decorating teacher. My room will never have color-coordinated borders and signs and chair pockets. It's not me. (If that's you, great!) My room is usually much more low-key and will feature kids' work or charts we've made or other related things.

My room is usually a little noisy and a little messy. We sometimes have dance breaks. We'll read a book together from  a Web site. We may do things in a little crazy way.

But that's me.

I don't need to try and be like someone else. I can learn from other teachers and gain valuable ideas. I can also choose to do something in a completely different way.

And what's interesting in all this. I never expect the other teachers to be like me. I don't expect teachers to have a dance party in the middle of math time.

But I often chastise myself for not being like them. Crazy, huh?

So this new school year, plan to give yourself a break. Do the best you can with what you have and what you know at the time.

Care about the children. Look for ways to put their needs first. (Yes, even ahead of those standards!)

In a month or a semester or a year, compare yourself to who you were. Are you growing as a teacher? Are you learning new things? Is today better than yesterday?

That's how you win the comparison game.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The P Word

This summer I'm reading and commenting on the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development? by Rae Pica.

Chapter 13: "Play" Is Not a Four-Letter Word

"He's just playing."
"Quit that playing. Do something productive."
"Be serious. Stop playing."

Maybe you've heard phrases like these in adult interactions. Maybe even in connection with preschoolers and children.

Kids are born to play. Play is their job, their occupation.

If that's so, why are so many adults trying to do something else with them?

In this chapter, Rae Pica looks at the push for achievement and accomplishment at the expense of play. "Got to get those kids ready for the real world." But isn't the real world all about problem-solving and exploring solutions? Isn't it about thinking and assessing and doing? All of those things are related to play, especially for younger children.

Rae writes regarding play: "Among the social skills learned are the ability to share, cooperate, negotiate, compromise, make and revise rules, and to take the perspectives of others." Play also helps develop problem-solving, helps kids deal with stress and cope with fears, and develop literacy, math, and creative skills. And much more.

In schools today, adults often tell kids how to use materials or what exactly to do. Too often in my church classroom, a kindergartner will walk up and ask: "What do we do here?" My current response to this: "Look at the materials. What do you think you could do?"

chairs and steering wheel for preschoolers (Brick by Brick)

I set up situations and materials in my classroom to suggest ways kids may play, work, and interact. But they should explore and experiment on their own. Recently I set up chairs and a steering wheel as a car. Kids began to drive to various locations and negotiate where to sit. The vehicle needed to be expanded, so we added a couple of chairs. Eventually our vehicle was a large van or bus, allowing seven kids to riding and play at the same time. (The doll made an eighth passenger.) 

Kids played out various roles. They used conversation skills. They challenged preconceived ideas. ("A girl is driving?") They discussed any minor conflicts that arose...and involved me when they felt it may be needed. ("Mr. Scott, they are making the baby pee out of the window.")

kindergartners driving in a pretend car (Brick by Brick)

Play is so important. True play, not directed or orchestrated by adults, is the way that children truly work out their understandings about the world. 

And, as Rae says: "I shouldn't have to defend play for children any more than I should have to defend their eating, sleeping, and breathing."

Some links from the book---