“I Don’t Believe You”

So today I got a lot of writing done. I am determined to get a book done; I’ve been talking about it long enough. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback on Facebook for the topic of the book, and that is a good thing. I did start writing a book about six months ago, but what I was writing was way too much for me to start out with. This one is a lot simpler, and it seems to be coming together fairly well so far. I’m under no illusions when it comes to how long it will take me to get this book put together. I know it takes awhile, and I’m sure that I’ll learn a lot along the way. I’m always up for a good challenge, and I’ve always wanted to write a book.

While I was on the playground today I was listening to another teacher discussing a situation with a child. I’m not sure what the child actually did, but the teacher asked the child about it and the child explained what happened, and then the unexplainable happened: the teacher told the child “I don’t believe you.” I couldn’t really believe that I had heard that; I can understand not believing every word that comes out of a child’s mouth, especially if the child feels that there is a threat of punishment involved. However, to actually tell a child that you don’t believe them?

Think about it this way: Imagine that you are telling someone that you trust a story about something that happened, and they say that they don’t believe you. How do you feel then? Inconsequential? Like the story didn’t even matter? Like they don’t even trust you? How do you build a relationship on that? Working with children requires that we build relationships with them with mutual trust on both sides. If a child is telling you something untrue, then that means that they don’t trust you with the truth. And if you tell them that you don’t believe them, that isn’t going to repair the trust issues that are present. It is only going to make it worse.

I try really hard to make sure that there aren’t these trust issues in my classroom. I don’t use punishment at all. We talk through things until we figure out what happened and we figure out solutions to problems. I try to approach situations with as little judgment as possible so that children feel safe telling me the truth. Lying comes from fear, usually from fear of punishment. If you take away the fear of punishment then lying stops.

So how do you make sure that children know right from wrong without punishment? That is a question that I always get asked, and I just answered while writing my book today. Maybe my next post will be an excerpt.

The Art of Noticing

She was standing by the slide. She put one foot on the rim of the slide and then the other, taking care to balance so that she wouldn’t fall. Then she looked at me.

“I see you balancing,” I said.

She hopped down onto the slide, and then put her feet up on the next rim. And then looked at me again.

“I saw you hop down. And I see you balancing again,” I said.

She hopped down onto the second slide, and then put her feet on the final ledge. After a second of balancing, she jumped down onto the ground and then looked at me.

“I saw you jump down,” I said. “That was a big jump.”

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She ran around the slide and climbed up on the rim again. She kept looking at me when she repeated an action and I kept telling her what I saw. At one point a boy tried to join in her game. “Let’s do this!” he said. “No,” she said. “I’m hopscotching.” I took note of her verbiage and used it the next time she looked at me. “That was a big hopscotch!”I said when she jumped down.

There was an amazing thing happening as I continued telling the girl what I saw her doing. She smiled and she seemed to become more confident in her actions. She also became more careful in her actions, as she discovered that the boots that she was wearing were slippery against the surface of the slide. Each time she slipped I noted that action as well, highlighting in my own way her need to be careful. I kept noting and acknowledging her actions for about ten minutes, until she became tired of the game.

Later in the day I noticed her acting more open towards me. She has always acted shy around me, and sometimes has actively ignored me in favor of other teachers in the room. It has been hard to develop a relationship with her because she has been so cautious towards me that it almost comes across as hostility. But after I actively noticed what she was doing and acknowledged her actions for an extended period of time, the cautiousness seemed to start to melt away. She started talking to me more, and when she looked at me a light danced in her eyes that I hadn’t seen when she looked at me before.

Sometimes all it takes to develop a relationship is to notice what the other person is doing and acknowledge it. It is almost like a support that the other person can use to grow and expand. And it lets them know that you see them. Sometimes that is all that children need – to know that you see them.

Building Positive Relationships: How To Escape Education’s Death Valley (Sir Ken Robinson)

Do I hit you over the head with Sir Ken Robinson? Well, I am not going to apologize for it, because the man is a wonderful speaker and is full of great ideas. The video I am presenting on the blog today is his presentation at the 2013 TEDTalk Education Conference, which is as phenomenal as all of his others. I included it under “Building Positive Relationships” because the ideas he presents have the ability to change and enhance the relationships between student and teacher, teacher and administrator, and administrator and legislator. I hope you enjoy the presentation.


Building Positive Relationships: The Three Areas of Classroom Management

The other morning I was going through a brainstorming session, wondering what to write about next. I have been doing a lot of writing about observation lately, and because I use observation for so many different aspects of the classroom I began to think about it in terms of classroom management. And then I began to think about the big picture of classroom management.

Let me first just say that I hate the term “classroom management”. I only use it because that is the going term these days within the education community for how to get the class to accomplish what you want to accomplish with the least amount of behavior problems possible. I prefer the term “Building Positive Relationships” because that is what I do. I don’t necessarily manage. I hate feeling like I am “managing” the classroom. The children don’t seem to appreciate it that much either.

So what do I do? Well, a few years ago I realized that there are several elements that are involved in dictating a child’s behavior. These elements work together to define the atmosphere of the classroom, which helps define the behavior of the children in it.

1. The Teacher

The teacher is probably the biggest factor influencing the behavior in the classroom. The way that the teacher reacts to behavior, how she/he conducts lessons, and how she/he interacts with the children sets the tone of the classroom. If the teacher is very overbearing and likes to micro-manage children, this will affect the mood and tone much differently than if she/he is more easy-going and flexible in the classroom.

How the teacher views children is usually evident by how they handle these different aspects of the classroom. In workshops and in talking to colleagues, I strongly encourage teachers to take a step back and really think about how they view individual children, as well as their class as a group. The attitudes that we feel about the children manifest themselves in our actions and reactions in the classroom, and impact the tone and mood of the class.

2. The Child

We all know that children come into the classroom with their own temperaments, their own baggage, and their own way of wanting to do things. Kids are kids. Kids like to move around, question everything, and experiment with life. These are things that we need to remember when we think about behavior in the classroom. I am actually working on a workshop right now that talks about the nature of children and how we view them. Want to see what I have so far?



It really is another post for another time, but it outlines different aspect of not just children, but people. All people have these different needs or qualities about them, and we need to remember that children have them, too. These different needs and qualities enter the classroom with the child, and every child has differences in the degree and kind of these needs and qualities. The mix that results is different in every classroom, and teachers need to be aware and structure the environment and atmosphere accordingly.

3. The Environment

I mentioned in a previous post that I do not view the classroom environment as a static entity. This does not mean that I move desks or tables around once a week – although that does help. The exploratory items in the classroom – from the manipulatives to the art selections to the blocks are ever changing and evolving to fit the interests and needs of the children in the classroom. This helps keep the calm as children explore new things (although the first few minutes of excitement over new items is kind of crazy) and keeps the children engaged. Playing or working with the same items over and over again in the same ways can get boring – we all know that – so we should change things up in the classroom, or provide new ways to experiment with old items.

These three areas can always be broken down into smaller elements, such as how the different areas of the classroom can be arranged so as to stimulate curiosity and excitement, or how to react when a child does X, Y, or Z. This post is intended to be an outline to get teachers thinking about the big picture and how it all works together. Sometimes I think that it is important to step back and remember the big pictures in the classroom, and reflect on our place in that big picture.

Building Positive Relationships: Helping Children Connect the Dots

Any time the children in my class make a mental connection, I celebrate with them. A while back, the class was absolutely enthralled with the book Owl Babies by Martin Waddel. One day a child was upset and told me that they wanted their mommy. I said, “Don’t worry, mommy is coming back.” Another child thought for a moment and said, “Just like the owl babies’ mommy!” I was very impressed with this connection and Owl Babies became our flagship book for remembering that mommy always comes back.

Children make connections like this all the time. The challenge for us, as teachers, is to not get so caught up in our own agenda that we miss the children trying to tell us about their connections. Any time I hear a child insistently calling my name – no matter what we are doing at the time – I try to answer and give them a chance to talk. It takes some practice and some patience, but I have found that the connections that the children make are much more visible to me.

There are two aspects of teaching this way that I want to discuss further. The first is, as I said, our own agenda. We all have a lesson plan that we must follow every week. We have activities planned that we know the children will enjoy and that will help them grow in the areas they need to grow in. The children keep trying to tell us something, but we don’t have time to listen to what they have to say – they need to be quiet so that we can move on to our next activity. Have you felt like that? Like there is too much distracting you from fulfilling your agenda for the day? Like they just don’t want to listen to you, and don’t they realize that we have a lot to do today?


Your agenda, in the grand scheme of things, is not that important. What is important is that this young child, who is still learning about and experiencing life, thinks highly enough of you that they want to share a piece of their life with you. This piece is so important to them that they will do whatever they can to get your attention so that they can share it.


Wherever this piece of their life leads you – to a different learning experience or a play idea that you hadn’t thought of before – pursue it for them. I promise you that whatever was so important to you can be reworked into the idea that was so important to them. And I realize that not all of the ideas that they have can be pursued. But this brings me to point number two.

Respect them enough to listen to them. Sometimes we get so caught up in thinking about them as children who need to be taught that we forget that they are people who have feelings, just like us. I know that when I am bursting with a new idea or have made a connection or have a celebration to share, I seek out the closest person I can find who I think will care. It can be a little deflating to try to share something with someone, but you can’t because that person can’t or won’t stop what they are doing for two minutes to listen to your news. It makes me think twice about sharing with them next time. If we don’t give children an chance to share their lives with us, how excited are they going to be to share with us when we want them to at circle time or any other time? How can we build connections with them if we don’t let them share with us? And what are the consequences as far as their self-esteem and their confidence if we don’t allow them to share?

What are the consequences to the classroom? If their inability to share leads to frustration, they may take that out on other children. If it leads to sadness, we may find ourselves dealing with a moody child. Neither option is ideal when working with a class full of children.

“Exactly,” I hear you say. “I have a class FULL of children. How can I possibly listen to the stories of every single one of them?” Well, the good news is that they won’t all have news to share at the same time. But the bad news is that many times the story of one child will trigger a thought in another, who will have to tell you their thought right then. This is a good opportunity to teach how we take turns when speaking. I have heard of several different ways to teach this communication skill, including giving a set of cut-out lips to the speaker and cut-out ears to the listener. My favorite, however, is simply to tell the children whose turn it is to talk. They typically understand, especially when they are told that they will get a turn as well. This even works when the teacher is trying to talk. Informing them of whose turn it is helps them to learn the mechanics of conversation.

The point is that nothing in anyone’s agenda is more important than the thoughts of the children. And the thoughts of the children can lead you to learning opportunities that you never dreamed of. Taking a moment to listen can be the greatest thing you, as a teacher, have done since making a lesson plan.