Bunnies, binders, and buckets: Things that are teaching me patience
Teaching a fourteen year old to slow down and open the rings in a binder and put papers away can be an excruciatingly frustrating task - and yet it taught me a lot. As an AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) Teacher and School Site Coordinator, I worked to help my high school students organize their binders. AVID emphasizes college and career ready skills, including organization. Many schools that implement an AVID program have standardized binders. While my school did not go that far, we did require an organized binder (which we teacher- and peer-graded using a checklist) and tables of contents for each class. Those of you who have met me in person likely know that I struggle to avoid teaching learned helplessness and to avoid advice giving (I took a counseling class for this reason). At first, I would just invite kids with messy binders to my room at lunch and I would basically organize their binders for them. While I still do this on occasion if a time is short or a student cannot imagine what organized looks like, I try to avoid it. Even as adults we struggle with organization - if we don't get time to rehearse and practice when we are younger, that should not surprise us as adults. After two years of teaching AVID and Earth and Environmental Science, I learned to SLOW DOWN. I would show my students exactly what to write in their table of contents (list of assignments - in my class we included an assignment number rather than page number and an emoji rating to show how well they understood the task). I would type this on my daily blog post in advance and I would write it on a posted table of contents while my students did the same (mainly to help me cue an appropriate amount of time for each task). Then, I would cue time to put papers away. This is crucial. I observed a huge number of teachers who would cue the time and immediately jump into the next task. Often the students would either shove things in their binder and seem rushed or take their time to put things away (annoying the teacher with binder clickings) and then be lost about the next step. Actually wait. I would use this time to put extra copies in my filing system and I would walk around and ensure my students who struggled to not lose papers actually got their papers into the rings. Make sure you wait. This also gives you and your students a moment to let your brains rest. SO, you lost some time putting papers away, how do you make up for that? Thinking long term, what I found was that students didn't lose work and they got to review the quality work we did in class - saving us time. Come the end of the unit, I could have students go back and annotate old assignments with questions to ask me or summaries to refresh their brains. They didn't have to redo assignments because they'd lost them and I didn't have to make extensive study guides - students revisited the work they'd already put so much time into. So, what does this have to do with patience (and buckets and bunnies)? I had to learn to slow down. I had to be okay with getting through less material on some days. I had to be okay with watching kids whose binders tended toward chaos struggle and not jump in in the first 2 seconds. My students learned to pace themselves quickly and to help each other if needed. This seemingly tiny shift made a big impact on learning and reduced stress and frustration for the whole class community.
Now, on to bunnies and buckets. I thought I had learned to slow down and meet students and children where they were through my time as a teacher, but toddler time is so incredibly different. Toddlers, until they really grasp object permanence, do not understand that that the swing they love will still be there tomorrow (and most children don't really grasp the idea of "yesterday", "today", "tomorrow" until 4-6 years old). They do not know what "one more time down the slide" means - many of them can't even hold up one finger. Having our little one forced me to slow down so much more and it has made my life richer, our family stronger, and our little one so much more engaged in her surroundings and more ready to problem solve. HG recently learned to follow simple directions. She knows going outside means she needs her shoes. Yet, choosing between clutching a bunny in one hand and bringing me one shoe OR dropping the bunny to bring me two shoes is a challenge. Sometimes she remembers that she can put the bunny down for a second, get her shoes on, then get the bunny, then go outside - but that's a lot for a wee one to process - between the directions, the shoes, the loved bunny, and the excitement about outdoors play. So, I've had to slow down again. I give reminders that we need two shoes (teaching early numeracy) and that we can get bunny in a moment (more numeracy). Then, once we are outside, we often have to decide how to carry a bunny and a bucket while trying to climb things. HG also has to decide if she'll carry her bucket in her hand or in the crook of her elbow. If it wasn't for the binders, I'd be jumping in every day to carry one for her. I have modeled that you can put the bunny in the bucket, but I try to stand back and let HG decide how to solve these little (to my adult brain) problems. If I can give her the space to solve these small problems and if I can continue to let her solve what ever problems face her as she grows, my hope is her skills to problem solve will generally match the problem she's facing (crossing my fingers at least...).
However, patience and slowing down are not always easy or possible. AND, we deserve our students' and kids' patience too at times. Sometimes, I need to run in to the bathroom and play time has to end. Sometimes in teaching we just have to drill and kill or get fussed at by admin. So, keeping this in mind, honoring that there are times we will not be able to slow down, I'll end with a few small steps you can take toward boosting patience and remembering to slow down when you can. And, I'll add a quote from Maria Montessori that might inspire you to use these ideas or find your own! Happy waiting!
Do less and do it richer. Replace a weekend with museum trips and play dates and soccer practice with a weekend of walks and family time. Bring a bucket or sticks on the walk and see what happens. Ask what colors your kids can collect. Ask what they can make with their collection. Imagine what the sticks can be used for (as long as we give them space). Take a blanket and put it over a chair. See what happens as your kiddos explore forts or run around as blanket monsters. In your classroom, stop freaking out about having the perfect lab packet and just do the lab. Have students list what they see and wonder on simple notebook paper. Talk about how you can write this more formally into a lab paper later. Try to only give work actually worth grading - what shows you what your students know and can do? This makes your life easier and your students' lives less stressful.
Say why you are slowing down - to your students and/or family members. This might sound like, "I'm excited because I'm going to assign you less graded work in hopes that we take each assignment more seriously and can spend more time digging in to what matters so we don't rush" or "I'm excited to walk with you today and notice what is interesting to you". Even if your toddler stares at you with a blank face, sometimes we just have to say something out loud to commit to it a little bit more. (You may think, "Will my students do the work if I'm not grading everything?" - I found that the answer was yes as long as I explained the reasoning - that I'm not going to grade them on their practice, only on their final product. And you can always adjust as needed in your context!)
List the cool things you notice your kid do or hear your students say. Often real moments of learning and growth go unnoticed because we look for big things - like learning to walk, winning a game, earning an A - when the real learning proceeds the end task. Celebrate the small successes - and notice your own role in them!
Think about this quote: “As a rule, however, we do not respect our children. We try to force them to follow us without regard to their special needs. We are overbearing with them, and above all, rude; and then we expect them to be submissive and well-behaved, knowing all the time how strong is their instinct of imitation and how touching their faith in and admiration of us.” ― Maria Montessori, Montessori's Own Handbook. I know that there are times I have snatched things from HG (like a rock I was afraid she'd eat, or a spoon she banged one too many times). I know I have told students I did not have time for their questions. If we did and said those same things to a same-aged friend, we'd likely get a look of shock and potentially start to destroy that relationship. Yet, we do this so often with our small ones. We rush them out the door, we swoop them up so we can walk faster, we hurry them from task to task. When we slow down and give time, we get to rest and they get to absorb and learn. We get to notice their successes and what we are doing that works for them.
I challenge you to enjoy a few moments at a slower pace this week. Try using the Month in Moments calendar. Feel free to share your successes or stumbles using #watchwonderbloom.