By Leigh Gannon Feld
Rules. We spend a lot of time talking about rules in Early Childhood Circles. Ask parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators… they all have a different take on rules. They’re important… without them, we fear mass chaos (and let’s be honest… even a perfectly managed preschool classroom can border on chaos!), but too many rules can be confusing to kids and teachers alike and they can create a restrictive learning environment. At the CDC, we understand the delicate balance between “good” rules and “bad” rules. A bad rule focuses on negative behavior and often starts with “don’t” or “no.” Even gently issued, a rule that focuses on the negative often misses the target, but a “good” rule – one that focuses on reinforcing positive behavior has the power to effect real change and build a classroom and school community.
I’m coming up on my one year anniversary as director at the CDC and I’ve been able to spend time in every classroom, learning and playing with your kiddos and developing more and more respect for your children’s teachers. I’ve said it from the beginning… the staff at the CDC is dedicated, smart, funny and determined to give their students the very best. As I’ve spent time in classrooms, I’ve seen teachers employ positive reinforcement and I’ve witnessed tough teacher/student conversations. Those conversations are always delivered with love, but they can still leave an icky feeling if the focus is on what a child shouldn’t do or can’t do or won’t do. Also, I’ve noticed that we all have the same goals for the kiddos -- we want them to be independent, caring, kind, curious, conscientious, hard-working and we want them to be good friends to others – but every teacher has a different way of explaining and reinforcing those rules and goals to their students.
Last week, I asked the teachers at the CDC to embrace three rules… just three rules that will always focus on the positive, rules that can, in their simplicity, address any infraction or situation that might arise in a classroom, and rules that we can use to create a common language throughout our school. Without further ado, here are THE CDC BIG THREE:
I wish I could take credit for these brilliant rules, but I learned about them from my friend, Molly, who teaches at a Reggio-inspired preschool in Vermont. These rules have been a part of the fabric at her preschool for years. I brought them to my old classroom in Nashville and shared them with our staff. In very short order, using these “rules” changed the way our students and staff interacted with each other. I’m excited to watch these “rules” work their magic at the CDC, too.
Here’s how a sample conversation might go…
Joey: Ms. T… Billy pushed me!
Ms. T: Billy… are you taking care of Joey when you push? We take care of our friends at the CDC. How can you take better care of Joey?
Ms. T: Joey, it’s time to clean up so we can go to the playground.
Joey: I don’t want to!
Ms. T: We take care of our school, Joey. One of the ways we do that is by cleaning up. Which part of the classroom would you like to take care of before we go to the playground?
I’m not a Pollyanna (okay, I kind of am!) and I know that these oversimplifications won’t always get the desired results the first time around. But the more we use this common language and the more we focus on what we do do and not on what we don’t do, the more we empower kids to, you guessed it… take care of themselves!
When I taught Pre-K, we always spent part of our first week together talking about the “Big Three.” At the end of that week, I’d ask the kids if they had any other rules we should add to our rule chart and they would start spouting specifics… “We don’t hit.” “We listen to our teachers.” “We share toys.” “We don’t throw things in the classroom.” “Running feet, inside voices…” You get the picture. As the kids shared these rules, I asked which “big three” rule they belonged to. “We don’t hit” falls under taking care of friends. “Running feet, inside voices” falls under taking care of the classroom. But wait, maybe it also falls under taking care of ourselves. The point is this… these “rules” are really best practices, used gently and consistently with kiddos who are our most important “customers.” By arming them with positive rules, we’re arming them for a future of kindness, compassion, empathy, independence, curiosity and so much more.
I invite our families to join us on our “big three” journey. How might you employ these rules at home? Is there one rule that you think will be harder to instill than the others? How long does it take before your children start talking about the “rules” at home? Let us know how they’re working for you and your family.