Thursday, October 21, 2010

Plan B in school - Running in the hallway

Here is an example of collaborative problem solving in school from a teacher - 2009 Thinkids educators blog
I rounded it off with a quote from Alfie Kohn and the kid '  dealing with the past ', acting in an autonomous way and engaging in the  moral act of restitution

When working together with students to solve the problems we’re having with them at school, the mantra of “be prepared for surprises” is certainly worth remembering. Last week when working with an elementary school implementing our approach, there were two great examples of this. We’ll share one now and one next week too!

Here’s the situation: a 2nd grader had been running through the halls of the school like wild and recently caused a major accident when we ran into a staff member wheeling a projector down the hall. While his teacher could’ve used a consequence to teach him a lesson (“its not OK to run in the halls!”), she let us sit in on her attempt at proactive problem solving with her. Here’s how it went:

Teacher: I know you know we’ve been concerned about your running in the halls here at school, right?

Student: Yup. I’m sorry.

Teacher: Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble. I just want to understand why you think you are running in the halls because I know we’ve told you tons of times not to! Why do you think you do it?

Student: I don’t want to be late.

Teacher: You don’t want to be late. Hmmm. Late for what?

Student: Breakfast.

Teacher: Why not?

Student: They always run out of the hot breakfast, and I like the egg sandwiches.

Teacher: Wow. And I thought you were just running because you thought it was fun! But you don’t want to miss out on the hot breakfast. I guess now that you say it, I have noticed that most of the complaints about you running in the hall are first thing in the morning. I guess the thing I’m worried about is someone getting hurt, like you or another student or a teacher. Does that make sense?

Student nods.

Teacher: So I wonder if there is anything we can do to make sure you don’t miss out on the hot food but still are safe – so you aren’t running through the halls? Do you have any ideas?

Student: They could save me one so I don’t have to run.

Teacher: That’s an idea. We could ask the breakfast folks if they could save you one. Do you think that would work?

Student: Yup.

Teacher: Well, let’s try it.

We never would’ve predicted that the reason the kid was running was through the halls like a lot out of hell was that he didn’t want to miss the egg sandwich. But once his teacher knew that it was a lot easier to have compassion for him and to think about ways to solve the problem. This is why its crucial not to do “drive-by empathy” or assume you know what the child’s concern or perspective is. Be open-minded and curious, like a detective. Gather information. You’ll find your surprised sometimes but those surprises will make everyone’s life easier once you know about them.

Now that we have come up with a mutually agreed solution that sounds realistic and doable and agreed to review how the plan is working we have essentially created for the kid, a vision for the future, there has been learning, his self esteem is not only intact but he feels good about himself, also his relationship with the teacher has improved as he sees her as a help and somebody who understands him, somebody who cares about him , even if he 'screws ' up. The stage is set for dealing with the past.

From Unconditional Teaching article – Alfie Kohn

'In an illuminating passage from her recent book Learning to Trust (2003), Marilyn Watson explained that a teacher can make it clear to students that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing “a very deep kind of reassurance – the reassurance that she still care[s] about them and [is] not going to punish or desert them, even [if they do] something very bad.” This posture allows “their best motives to surface,” thus giving “space and support for them to reflect and to autonomously engage in the moral act of restitution” – that is, to figure out how to make things right after doing something wrong. “If we want our students to trust that we care for them,” she concludes, “then we need to display our affection without demanding that they behave or perform in certain ways in return. It’s not that we don’t want and expect certain behaviors; we do. But our concern or affection does not depend on it.”'

Teacher: We still have the problem of the broken projector .

Student: Maybe I could do some odd jobs for the school.

Teacher: Can you think of anything else you could do ?

Student: I could write a letter apologizing for damaging the projector and being unsafe in the hallway. I could also do some babysitting or use some of my allowance to pay for some of  the damage.

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