Ms Julie on ‘Educating for Life’

Ms. Julie's class 'morning meeting'.

Ms. Julie’s class ‘morning meeting’.

By Ms. Julie (Julie Cash) 

An important way we are educating for life at GW is seeing the daily conflicts that arise as opportunities for teaching and learning.  These issues provide many valuable “teachable moments” where we use real life situations in the classroom to model and reinforce positive problem solving and social skills.

An example of this recently took place in my E-1 classroom when a first grade boy came in one morning wearing a new pair of eyeglasses. I overheard a few remarks that I was sure made him feel uncomfortable and self-conscious, and I decided to discuss it in a class meeting.

“How many of you have ever had a new haircut and felt nervous about walking into the classroom looking different, because you were afraid of what someone might say?” Since I had observed this happening I knew many of the children had experienced this. Hands shot up. “Do we want the kind of classroom where children feel nervous about what their classmates might say when they look a certain way? We need to think about what kind of classroom we want to have, and how we want everyone to feel in our classroom.”

It is striking how engaged children become when a topic of social concern is being discussed. It was obvious that this was a topic that most everyone related to. I went on to say that we could find a way to notice that someone looks different without saying things that might hurt their feelings. I explained that this can be done without saying something that we don’t really feel, like “You look great!” or “I like your haircut,” when we don’t really feel that way.

Children need explicit instruction and modeling to gain the social tools they need to communicate in ways that are honest, as well as considerate of others. I suggested what we could say to someone with a new haircut, even if we weren’t so sure we liked how he or she looked: “I noticed you got a haircut.”  Then I asked the children for their suggestions of other things they could say. “How do you like your haircut?” “Where did you get your haircut?” “I remember how I felt when I got my hair cut,” were some ideas the class came up with.

I went on to say that one of our friends came into our class that morning looking different because he had a new pair of glasses. I asked him how he felt coming into the room and he said some people said things that made him feel sad. I asked the class to practice saying things to him that were honest and also considerate of his feelings. Their ideas included, “I see you got glasses.” “Why do you have glasses?” “Where did you get your glasses?” “Do you like having glasses?” “Are they helping you see better?”  “I think you look nice in your new glasses.” We asked the boy how he felt about the comments and questions and he said he felt much better.

At GW we are helping children learn effective ways to communicate that do not ask them to say things they don’t really mean. This preserves the dignity of both the speaker and the person receiving the comments, and gives children important social tools that allow them to relate to each other in ways that are sensitive to another’s feelings, while staying true to their own.