10 Rules for teachers...
I love the fact that the Swedish preschool curriculum does not have goals for the children... but goals for the teachers and the education/service they provide. When I look at curriculums from many other parts of the world the focus is always on the goals the children need to reach, and that the rule is the teacher is to get the children there...
if the goal focus is, instead, on the teacher and the setting then the rules are very different. They are no longer about getting the child to a certain place, but about getting the educator and the setting to a certain place.
Also when we think of school rules or kindergarten or prekindergarten rules (preschool) then its usually rules that are put in place for the children to follow rather than the teacher... So I want to flip that... here are 10 rules for educators...
1. BE RESPECTFUL
There needs to be respect. To respect each child. To respect the group. Respect the materials. Respect the process.
It's not your job to fix the child - being an educator is about learning to understand the child and their needs to evolve and to meet those needs
Take the time to understand the child's/group's background, they have experienced things that have made them the person that they are.
Be thoughtful, take time to reflect on what you say and how you say it, so that the children you work with can comprehend it, and not take offence or feel threatened.
Be consistent. Children need to learn about consent as a form of respect. For example, no means no. But if children can whine their way into a yes then they are learning the no means yes if I am persistently annoying. So, I have always been clear with the children I work with, and my children at home, that no, means no, unless they can come up with a good argument that persuades me to change my mind... any form of whining would make me more determined to say no. (Of course you also need to look at the whole situation... does a whimper or little whine mean that they are too tired, or hungry to be able to make a good argument, and that I need to meet their needs to then be able to present their cause??)
Don't praise a child for something that is not deserving praise. Allow children to develop their own sense of self esteem and self value. I respect a child enough to be honest... that does not mean I have to be brutally honest. But what I strive to do is to ask the child about how they feel about it, or vocalise an observation - yes, I see, you are high up, or yes, I see you have climbed all the way up... My aim is to acknowledge the child's achievements, let them know I see them and value them, to comment on it and listen to them, but also not to fuel the need to do things only for approval of the the reward of praise, but for the reward of self-satisfaction.
Don't talk about children so that their peers can hear. I know that we all need to discuss and reflect on the children we take care of. But this should be done elsewhere and not in front of the children.
As I say to my preschoolers at the start of every philosophical dialogue - listen with your ears, with your eyes, with your heart and your mind.
This will mean listening also to those unsaid thing, the non-verbal communication. It requires that you pay attention to all the signals, for example "free play time" or recess is not a time for you to have a break from the children, but a time for the children to have a break from you. During this time you can learn so much about the children, how they interact with each other (and how that shifts), how they interact with materials and the world around them, how they share their ideas etc etc... this knowledge allows you as an educator to better prepare lessons that a respectful of the child's abilities and reflect their interests and awakens their curiosity.
Listen to understand, not to answer.
3. DON*T INTERRUPT AND DON*T IMPOSE YOUR "SOLUTIONS"
Children are taught that it is rude to interrupt, yet adults seldom heed to this rule - it is just to watch talk shows, political interviews, reality programmes to see how people are constantly interrupting each other, in fact loud, aggressive, in your face behaviour is virtually encouraged. Interrupting informs the other that you are more important than them, that you do not care about what the other person is saying, that you think that what you are saying is more important, interesting, accurate or relevant, you are also implying that you do not have time for the opinions of others, as well as indicating that you are not a part of a dialogue but a part of a competition and that your opinion is going to win.
As a teacher you need to be aware that all children think and speak at different rates... YOU need to get comfortable with silence. This is something that I have written and talked about often. How teachers often feel uncomfortable with silence and will fill it all too soon. Over the years I have used my stopwatch function on my phone to see how long the silence can go before an adult will fill it with the intention to help - usually it is about 2 minutes. What I have also noticed is that it takes a group of children about 4 minutes (in the beginning) to get going... partially because they are not used to the teacher actually stepping back and making them think and participate... and just wait for the teacher to give the cues, the "solutions" - because education is, sadly, all too often about saying the right thing, the correct answer. The school system is not really interested in the opinions of children... they are pre-occupied with filling the child with facts and how to properly regurgitate those facts that make it sound like knowledge. (I do think there are many teachers that break that mould, and also many children that build on their knowledge despite the best efforts of teachers to interrupt and impose their agendas, or the agenda of the school)
4. DON'T TAKE EVERYTHING PERSONALLY
Children are busy reacting to all sort of stimuli, processing experiences, learning how to manage their emotions, making discoveries. They might have had a bad night's sleep, or about to get sick, or didn't get any breakfast for a myriad of reasons that are probably not their fault. Sometimes these reactions will trigger YOUR buttons. But as an educator it is your responsibility to take a deep breath... and act professionally, respectfully and empathically. This is professional love.
There will be children that you get along with easily, and there will be children that are harder to connect with - and for a variety of reasons. be honest and work out why... be honest and allow colleagues to take care of those children you struggle with until you work out how to develop a better, more positive and thriving relationship for both your sakes.
5. VIEW YOURSELF AS PART OF A TEAM/COLLABORATE
Not just with colleagues, but with the children too. The children come to your setting with not only their individual experiences and knowledge formed from that, but also with the collective truth of the group. Teaching is best done in a room filled with trusting relationships. Relationships only work when they are two way, with a great deal of give and take, this means there needs to be compromise - for the children to learn how to compromise, you as an educator need to be able to model it too. There is a complexity to compromising - as roles are continuously shifting (gender roles etc), stereotypes are being challenged. So often this can be more tricky for the adult than the child, because they are not weighed down as much by bias.
It is your responsibility as a teacher to ensure that everyone gets to collaborate and participate. About enabling the quiet children to take more space, but also enabling the louder children to listen... we would do both a disservice if we only collaborated with the children who dared to speak out, or needed to take all the attention - for those children will struggle to learn the value of listening, and the many wonderful ideas of the quieter or shy children go unheard.
The children are equally human as you. They have simply not lived as long... but ,despite that, some children will have more experience of certain areas of life than you maybe ever will... so that brings us back to respect...
6. BE OPEN
Open your mind to the experiences and knowledge the children have. Open you mind to the fact you might be wrong. Be open to the possibility that you might learn something new. Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticising what she tells you. If what is said alarms you, then be all means be alarmed, but don't secretly think "that was a stupid thing to do" because as soon as you start being judgemental you have compromised your effectiveness as listening. Be open to your bias - and deal with it, rather than ignore it. Bias will impact your interactions if you are not aware of it.
being part of a team means that when we get it wrong we need to apologise. It shows respect. It shows that we value the children and the process of collaboration. Apologising is a great way to role-model respectful behaviour. It also creates an environment where mistakes are allowed. Failure is not bad and should not be punished... it is a natural way to learn in an explorative, experimental and creative learning environment. We are not all just learning knowledge... we are also learning socially.
Explain why you apologise... a simple sorry is not enough, you need to explain why you are sorry and what you have learned... so that the children can also learn from the process.
8. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
As teachers we are with children a lot. And the more experience we get over the years, especially educators that are open and respectful, the more their phronesis develops... (phronesis.. a kind of practical knowledge, of knowing through experience... see my post here for more information)
If you feel that something is wrong bring it up with colleagues to discuss it. To reflect on how you can make better observations to see if there is any substance to your instincts flaring up...
act on it - do not wait for someone else to voice it.
9. BE BRAVE
Don't just do things because you have always done them that way.Think about why you teach, speak, interact, behave the way you do. Think about how routines empower or disempower the children and/or you.
Do what is right, not what is easy. (But do what is safe... so maybe what is right might require lots of baby steps... and other times enormous leaps).
10. BE A CO-LEARNER
Being an educator means we need to continuously be learning. Learning from the children... their ideas, the knowledge they already possess, their abilities... learning with the children - exploring subjects together. For example I had to learn about robots, film-making etc parallel to the children, as I knew virtually nothing about this before I embarked on a project with the children. This also means allowing space for the children to be a co-learner too, and not just for you as an enthusiastic teacher to direct the learning journey... all hands need to be on that wheel, not just yours.
We also need to learn for the children... to delve into pedagogical theories, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology... so that we gain a better understanding of how learning occurs, of how play impacts us, of how to become a better educators, how to develop better relationships, what happens in the mind of children impacted by trauma etc etc
Of course teaching is much more complex than this... but if we keep these 10 rules in mind we can help provide a better climate for learning and play. Below are some quotes to further reflect on in our roles as teachers...