Kia ora and hello, friends. Just a quick announcement to let you know that at least for now, I have moved my blogging over to PlayWithYour.Food.Blog. I’ll be blogging about kids and questions, ethics, travel, and vegan food. Please feel free to join the discussions over there! Any requests, please feel free to email me at madeleinebella [at] gmail [dot] com with “request for blog” in the subject line or contact me directly through WordPress. Cheers!
I had the privilege during my travels in the States last month to visit a democratic free school (based on the Sudbury model) and a homeschool resource centre. I graduate from a different democratic free school seven years ago (🙀), and I found myself drawing a lot of parallels but noting a few key distinctions.
In both communities, the spaces are clearly student-centred, with couches and large community tables in place of rows of desks. Students have access to shelves and shelves of all different genres of books, musical instruments, computers, art supplies, and other resources. There is a School Meeting once per week in which the community votes on key issues of importance to the community. There is a small Judicial Committee composed of youth and staff that handles small issues that concern just one or a few members of the community.
At this particular democratic free school, to graduate, students must write a thesis demonstrating their readiness to leave the support of the free school community and enter the adult world. One of the staff members pointed out that he would never have been able to do that when he was a senior graduating from high school. It does seem to be a more authentic way of demonstrating one’s readiness to move on to the next stage of life than a bunch of letter or number grades given to you by an authority figure that are supposed to tell you about what facts you have memorised.
Some key differences between these models of education and compulsory schooling: facts (which can be and often are easily forgotten) vs. skills (which will serve us for life), and what to think vs. how to think.
Since August, I have been teaching New Entrants (five-year-olds) in a wonderful, student-centred, progressive school. I adore my colleagues and administration and am fortunate to have a lot of liberty in how my classroom runs. Our syndicate is embracing play-based learning, and there has been a marked shift to supporting skill-building and tamariki (children)’s own inquiry process. I have been trying to work out how much of my unschooling and free school background I can bring into my classroom while still working within a conventional school environment. So that brought me to re-examining what my role is. What is my responsibility as an adult in the classroom?
There is clearly:
Do no harm.
Nurture my children’s natural curiosity.
Facilitate opportunities for deeper inquiry.
Facilitate development of strong social-emotional skills so that tamariki grow up able to articulate their own emotions and successfully navigate conflict with others.
Nurture an environment in which each child feels welcome and supported and sees their culture and identities represented.
What more would you add to this list? What are the concrete actions we are/should be taking to fulfill these responsibilities every day?
If you’re anything like me, this week has left you nauseated and feeling paralysed. The ongoing detention camps, Justice Kennedy’s resignation, the blow to unions, the court’s upholding the Muslim ban, it’s all overwhelming. And still, we can’t let it paralyse us. Self care is essential; please do what you need to do to recharge and keep fighting. Part of being an educator means standing up for kids. It means creating and demanding safety. Here’s a simple activity we can do with little ones to demand justice for children and families:
Write a post card to Trump demanding justice for children and their families, take a photo of it, and post it with the hashtag #postcards4families —> the organizers will donate $5 per post card to RAICES, a non-profit providing free and low-cost legal services to under-served immigrant children, families and refugees. If you’re a kid, write your age, and they will credit it as a postcard they match. (Ones by adults are great too! but they are focusing on donating for kids’ cards at the moment.) Info and addresses at the link below. The organisers have created a page to post the images to. Or/and if you have the resources, run a fundraiser yourself! Please share!
I’ve been really struggling with how to be respectful of gender identity and avoid reinforcing the gender binary when speaking in a language that genders everything. Just asking “what is your name?” in Hebrew (and in most languages I’m familiar with besides English!) requires the speaker to assume the other person’s gender identity (male or female, no other options). How do you ask pronouns in a language that genders the sentence “what are your pronouns?”
Teaching primary school ESOL and EFL adds a whole second layer of complexity. Continue reading →
Four-year-old: [looking up from Lego helicopter] What are those dots on your face?
Me: They’re called acne. I’m not sick. They’re just part of my skin. Most people get some pimples when they become teenagers, and a lot of people, like me, have them as adults too. They come and go.
Four-year-old: They look icky.
Me: Sometimes they feel icky on my face, too, and other times they feel fine. Sometimes I even forget they’re there.
Four-year-old: But I don’t have them.
Me: I know, not yet. You’ll probably get some when you’re a teenager, but you may not. Not everyone does.
Four-year-old: [silence as he plays with Lego set]
Four-year-old: [suddenly reaches toward my face]
Me: Please stop and wait. Were you wanting to feel the dots on my face?
Me: Okay. That’s fine with me. It’s just important to always ask before you touch someone’s body. Can you try asking, “May I please touch the dots on your face?” Four-year-old: May I please touch the dots on your face? Me: Sure! I don’t mind. Just please be gentle. Thanks for asking.
Four-year-old: [feels gently, wrinkles nose] Ew. [pulls hand away, smiling]
Me: Yeah, they’re kind of funny sometimes. It’s okay to feel them because I said it’s okay. When you want to touch someone’s body, you just have to ask first if it’s okay. Only if they say “yes,” then it’s okay. If they say “no,” it’s not okay and it’s really important that you respect that. I said yes, so it’s okay.
Four-year-old: [feels my face one more time in interest, then goes back to Legos]
I have a variation on this conversation pretty often. I hope the message gets through. Also. I find it really interesting that it is so, so much easier for me to be body positive around young kids. Most of the time, I’m super self-conscious about my acne (which has been particularly strong for aroung twelve years or so), and really hate it. And then I hate that I hate it, and I feel like a bad feminist, because I know it’s just part of my body that I can’t control, and it doesn’t inherently make me ugly, and I shouldn’t cover myself up, and blah di dah all of that that’s easy to say and difficult to feel. And then I tell myself my feelings are valid anyway. And then I get into a big argument with myself and just end up putting on some basic concealer to go to work and forget about it. Somehow, with four-year-olds, that whole self-conscious narrative just melts away. I’m just me. And they’re just them. And that’s okay. Wow.
“Say that silence is dangerous, and teach them how to speak up when something is wrong.”
It goes without saying that I’ve been reeling with grief and shock this week. Here are some concrete words I was able to pull strength from in my conversations with students this week, from The Huffington Post. The article bears reading in full:
“Tell them bigotry is not a democratic value, and that it will not be tolerated at your school.”
“We need to teach students how to disagree—with love and respect. These skills will be priceless in the coming months and years as we work to build a democratic society that protects the rights of all people ― regardless of the cooperation or resistance those efforts face from the executive branch.”
Now we regroup, and we tell the people we love that they are loved and they matter over and over and over again. My question to myself this week: How can I most effectively leverage my skills and the privileges I have left to stand up for and support the young people who are going to spend a key portion of their formative years under the reign of a bigot who promotes sexual assault?
If you are devoted to this same goal as a fellow educator and/or advocate and/or restless globetrotter, I’d love to hear your ideas below. More to come soon.
Are you an activist-educator and would like an amazing job this summer? OR do you know a teenager who wants to strengthen their activism skills to make the world a better place? I worked with Youth Empowered Action camp as a mentor to teen activists last summer and can’t recommend it highly enough. See below!
2. Are you a dedicated progressive activist working in positive, peaceful, strategic ways to make our world a better place? Do you have experience in lots of different types of activism and are you supportive of a variety of progressive issues, including animal rights, climate change, anti-racism, women’s rights/pro-choice, and gay rights? Can you model being respectful of people who disagree with you? (No angry activists, please.)
Hello lovely readers. With the school year in full swing, I’ve been spending a lot of hours with five-to-seven year olds in child care and student teaching. And sometimes (often) kids get frustrated. A parent asked me to write out some of my strategies for conflict resolution when siblings fight, so here’s a few things I try to keep in mind when tensions escalate. I’d welcome feedback! Thanks 🙂
1) Stay calm. This may seem obvious and also easier said than done, but kids really tend to take their cues from the people around them. If I get really anxious about something, they’re likely to get more anxious too. So if the kids are upset about something that seems like it isn’t actually a big deal, I just honor and acknowledge their feelings and then try to model calm and reasoned problem-solving. Of course if there is a serious problem, I communicate that to them, but as calmly as possible, and tell them what needs to happen or again model effective problem-solving.
2) Acknowledge their feelings and de-escalate. We take deep breaths and I remind them that we need to use words to communicate in order to solve a problem. Sometimes I use some modified techniques from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. http://www.wikihow.com/Practice-Nonviolent-Communication Though I try not to become too scripted, as that can seem disingenuous and thus be counterproductive. I ask “what are you feeling right now?” and “What do you need?” and work with them to try and find a way that we can all get what we need without anyone getting hurt (physically or emotionally).
3) Share my own experiences. I think it’s important for kids to realize everyone (adults too) gets frustrated and angry, that it’s not bad to feel emotions, and that there are constructive ways of expressing those emotions without hurting anyone. Last month, I had a conversation with some kids about punching vs. other ways of expressing anger without hurting anyone – e.g. I told them sometimes when I get upset, I throw a pillow or go in the backyard away from people to have a good scream. They laughed at the idea of my throwing pillows, which also helped de-escalate the tension.
4) Collaborate to find a solution. I give kids autonomy and try to always give them choices or ask them what they think we should do if it’s a situation with any flexibility, and I thank them for their helpful ideas. Then in the few circumstances in which there really can’t be any compromise, I feel comfortable putting my foot down, and they’re more likely to listen. I also encourage them to ask each other for what they need instead of having me give orders (e.g. “Did you ask Maria if you could have a turn next?” instead of “Maria, let Joshua on the swing now.”)
5) Always give reasons when I ask or tell them to do something (and I try to make a clear distinction there!) or when I say no. Most of the things I’m not willing to compromise on have to do with staying safe/healthy. I am lucky that most of the kids I work with are very responsible about not crossing the street without an adult, not touching the hot stove, etc., so I don’t have to say a flat “no” very often.
6) Problem-solve instead of punish. Once a child I was watching punched another child in the middle of a mall. I first quickly made sure they were all right and then told the child firmly “It is never okay to punch” and “we have to discuss this now,” but also told them “I’m not angry. I’m not angry, but we have to talk because I can tell something is very wrong.” We re-located to the closest quiet space (happened to be a couch in a bookstore) and continued “I know you wouldn’t have wanted to hurt [name], so you wouldn’t have done that unless something was really upsetting you. Please tell us what happened.” I assume the best of intentions. First the child clammed up and refused to speak at all, but when he realized I wasn’t punishing him, he was able to tell us why he was upset with the other child, and we discussed ideas of how to solve the problem without hurting each other. He eventually apologized but not before he was ready (as an apology is pretty meaningless if it’s not genuine).
7) Specific positive reinforcement. I try to point out things I’m really happy about to encourage repeating, instead of saying “no” all the time. “Thank you for telling us before you stopped your bike in front of me.” “Thank you for biking carefully and stopping before each street.” “That was so kind of you to offer to help your brother.” “That was so kind of you to offer to share with your sister.” Etc., etc. I also avoid just saying, “you were really good today” or similar because that doesn’t really give them any new information, and also can inadvertently imply that sometimes a child is “bad.”
Hope this offers some food for thought! I am always questioning and refining conflict resolution with a goal of honoring kids’ experiences and empowering them to stand up for themselves with peers and thoughtfully, effectively resolve conflicts – suggestions always welcome. Thanks again!
Post-script: To end, have a smile – This is the first photo I saw when I searched for “kids fighting” online … This looks like goat kids playing to me, actually! They hit their strong foreheads and horns together for fun. =)
“Mountain Tambourine,” Peter van Toorn (Canada), This Same Sky p. 102 (see Resource List)
A crew took part of the big tree away
on my street. A poplar, it was throwing
its ashes, its dirty pillow stuffing,
around too much. So they said. Anyway,
people were tired of it. It was too grey.
It might drop a tired branch and hit something,
a power or phone line. What’s still standing
they’ll come for tomorrow and chop away.
It doesn’t make much poplar talk now. The big
clatter’s gone out of it. On the older
side of the street, the last tree stands, tall, big,
full, leafy—a fine shade and rain holder.
It leans to one side at a warm angle,
like Annie, whose door it covered last fall.
Background on Philosophical Issues
“Mountain Tambourine” makes us wonder what our roles are as people in relation to the earth and its inhabitants. The people in the poem cut a tree down, presumably because it has been inconveniencing humans. Is it okay to destroy non-human nature in order to make ourselves more comfortable? Our instincts might be to say no, but we must realize that our day-to-day lives depend on doing just this every day. Every time I write on a sheet of paper or print out an essay for school, I depend on the systematic destruction of forests. Every time I get in a car or even ride a bus or train, I support the creation of more exhaust fumes that pollute the air and make it difficult for all species of animal and plant life to live. Every time I open a plastic package, I know the material will ultimately end up leaching chemicals into the earth and/or being picked up and choked on by a bird or fish who mistakes it for food. My waste and its consequences will be around long after I am gone. Does this mean we should reject all forms of industrial living? Some people say yes, and choose to live entirely “off the grid” and/or as fruitarians – individuals who do not consume anything that caused another living entity, animal or plant, to die. Others believe that we can find a morally-acceptable balance between considering the interests of present-day humans, the interests of other species of animal and plant life, and the interests of future generations. Either way, it is difficult to imagine living in today’s society without in some way relying on paper made from trees that have been killed. How do we reconcile our wishes to treat the earth with “respect” and “kindness” and our urge to maintain the habits and conveniences we have grown up accustomed to?
Philosophy of Language
The tree almost becomes a character in this poem. The speaker refers to the tree’s “poplar talk,” and the tree has a “tired branch.” This personification compels us to consider what it really means to communicate. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) revolutionized how we think about language and communication. For Wittgenstein, effective communication depends on a “language game,” in which all the participants in a conversation agree on the same “rules.” Under this understanding, words mean something only within the context of a culture. The meanings of words, of course, depend on how individuals interpret them.
What is the relationship between language and communication? Wittgenstein hypothesized a “private language” (though he didn’t refer to it with this name). Wittgenstein believed that a private language – a language that only one person understands – would be meaningless. The reasoning behind this is that each word has meaning only in relation to other words. If someone makes up a word but has nothing to relate it to, then even the originator would not be able to explain her own language. This seems to imply that any language must be communicated between multiple people. If this is true, it could imply that the formation of language and even concepts depends on set, agreed-upon rules of behaviour.
However, others have put forth a wider definition of language, which can include a language spoken only to the self. If even trees can have language, would this mean they have thoughts and consciousnesses? Or would it mean that language doesn’t require consciousness? On the other end of the spectrum, is it possible for someone to have thoughts without having access to language, or do we need language in order to formulate thoughts?
When humans or other animals use gestures or facial expressions to communicate, is that talking? Why or why not?
If I say something that only I understand, is that a language? Why or why not? If I interpret the sounds of nature to mean something but no one else understands them the same way, is that language? Why or why not?