Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Miss Night Mutters. Literally.

First: WOW.

My last post, from just a few days ago —  Dear Parent: About THAT Kid… — has gone viral. 1.3 million hits and counting. It has been featured on the Washington Post education blog, and will soon appear on a few other sites, as well. I’m sharing this, not to blow my own horn, but rather, to THANK all of you, who helped that happen. For a blizzard of reasons, that post has hit a nerve. I am so honoured and touched by the stories that have been shared in the comments, and by the personal e-mails so many of you have sent me. Thank you so much for sharing your stories, for connecting with me and one another, and for spreading that post the full length and breadth of social media in all its forms. Wow. You guys are amazing. A million readers, and all through “organic spread” (which means, I have learned, that there was no paid promotion of the piece). Just you all, spreading it via digital word of mouth. Do you know how awesome that is?

Part of the attention that the post has drawn came in the form of a radio interview that I did today, and while it makes me feel a little bit naked-on-the-internet to share my full real name and school here (where I have always been semi-anonymous), I wanted to share it with you. The host asks some questions that have come up in many of the comments on the blog, and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to answer them.

 

Miss Night Mutters. Literally.

So, there you have it: my ACTUAL voice, amplifying our collective voice, about being kind, fair, respectful, and compassionate to ALL the children and families in our care.

Thank you guys.  SO MUCH.

And, coming soon, by your request: a follow-up Dear Parent letter, about how teachers are looking after YOUR child in the classroom, when YOUR child is not THAT child.

Love and so many blessings, friends. You amaze me.

xo

Miss Night

 

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Ask Miss Night: Transgendered Kindergarten Student

Hello friends!

I know it has been a long time since I wrote an Ask Miss Night column, and today’s post actually came to me “through the grapevine,” and is a little sensitive.

Through a dear #kinderchat friend, I have been in touch with a parent of a kindergarten aged child who is biologically a girl, but who identifies as a boy. Obviously, this is a difficult path for both Mom and child, and they have experienced some pretty significant rejection by other family members, friends, and their church community. Mom is looking for any resources, articles, links, support communities, books, to help her and her child feel less isolated and alienated as they negotiate this reality. She needs support for herself and her child, as well as resources to help the rest of her family, school, and community understand what it means to be trans-gendered.

If you ask me, she is a brave, strong, amazing mother, who would also benefit from hearing some supportive messages from educators and parents. ANY resources, contacts, suggestions you have would be most welcome, as this is outside of my area of expertise, and I don’t have any direct experience with young children who are transgendered.

I want to be clear that I am not looking for (and will promptly delete) any debate about the morality/legitimacy of transgendered children.  I’d like us all to be able to deepen our understanding, while helping this mom and her child feel less alone. Please share any links and resources in the comments. If you’d like to pass something on directly to this mom, in a more confidential way, feel free to e-mail me, and I will pass on your stories and comments, back through the grapevine, to this Mom.

I know that the biggest, wisest, most generous, most open hearts on the whole internet are readers of this blog, and I KNOW we can give this mom and her child a safe harbour.

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Ask Miss Night: Taming the Transitions

Oh crap, that’s right, I HAVE A BLOG!

Hello friends. I know you have all been losing sleep, wondering what has happened to your beloved Miss Ni… Oh, who am I kidding?! You all have been living your lives, most of you teaching your kiddos, getting by just fine without me. Let’s all be honest here for a minute, and admit that one of the strongest realities of this line of work is how completely the day-to-day nitty-gritty can consume us – to a point that it seems we blink, and suddenly it is the end of October.

CAN I GET AN AMEN ON THAT?! (Or a what-what, or a whoop-whoop, or a hallelujah, or a hell-ya, or whatever exclamation of agreement you prefer…?)

Anyway, have no fear: I am back, with a great question from a reader we will call NE. NE is new to kindergarten, and is struggling with transition times. She says:

Well, since this is my first experience with Kindergarten I have no expectations of what is going to happen but here’s something I’m struggling with. My dismissal time routine is really rough as is right after lunch. With our schedule we eat lunch then start math. What are some attention grabbers you use to help keep the attention of your students? After unstructured time (lunch) my class is really wild and hard to settle down……
When I dismiss, I dismiss bus students then have the walkers get their backpacks from their lockers. As I’m watching for parents another unstructured time, the students seem to be wild and not wanting to read or do a puzzle.

First, dear NE, please know you are not alone. Dealing with transitions is one of the hardest part of teaching little ones. Even the most angelic group of kiddos can seem to turn into a whole other species at the times of day when there is more than one thing going on at once, or when they are waiting for the next thing to start. To make things worse, transitions often seem to happen at times of day when kids are tired (Post-recess! After lunch! End of the day!) and/or hungry (Pre-lunch! Before snack! End of the day!) And, even when you have  GREAT transition routines, there are still random days where those in-between times go back to being a 3-ring circus of chaos, and all you can do is breathe through them. The good news is: by their very definition, transition times MUST come to an end.

That said, there are things you can do to help things go more smoothly. Since it has been several weeks since you submitted your question, you may have discovered some of these, or stumbled into other solutions. I’m also going to ask the readers to share their best tips and tricks in the comments, since they are  ALWAYS much smarter than me!

My first approach would be to eliminate as many transitions as possible. Look critically at any time of day when you are asking the entire group to stop one thing, come together, and than start another thing. Is there a way to change it, or to create a routine that has less stop-and-start. My favourite example of this is doing snack as a centre rather than a whole-group activity: during my afternoon play centres, one table is designated as the snack centre, where children can choose to eat whenever they are hungry. This saves me multiple transitions – from play to cleanup to hand-washing to snack to cleanup to bag-packing. Instead, we just do play to cleanup to packing. So, for your lunch-to-math transition, is there a way to have a routine allowing each child to finish lunch, clean up, and start a math routine of some kind, without having to wait for everyone? A math journal? A designated shelf of math-related games or manipulatives? Something they can start independently, but that is not mandatory, so that the slow eaters can skip it if needed.

My second piece of advice would be to consider the noise level, as transitions are a time when it is WAY too easy for kids to get sucked into an escalating spiral of LOUDNESS, where the LOUDNESS makes them speak LOUDER to be heard over the LOUDNESS which makes everything LOUDER… you can see where I am going with this. While I am not a huge fan of making children be silent, a “no talking” rule, when used sparingly, can help kids focus on the task at hand, and develop the self-regulation to move through a particularly difficult transition. My current group has been struggling with the “getting ready for recess” routine (we are already into snow pants and heavy coats and boots and hats and mittens), and just last week we instituted a “no talking until you are dressed” rule. It is not my favourite, and will not be the rule forever, but right now it is helping them stay focused on details like “MITTENS GO LAST.” So, for you, NE, are there times where a temporary “no talking” or “whispers only” rule would help create a habit of calm and focus?

My final addition to a transition tool kit is songs and chants. Songs, poems, and fingerplays are your best weapon at any time that some of the kids are waiting for others to be ready, or when ALL the kids are waiting for an event or activity. Sing, sing, sing. Find songs for the transitions themselves (like a cleanup song), and sing songs while you wait. If half the kids are at the circle and the other half are still wrapping up lunch, start singing with the carpet kids. It will keep them out of trouble, and the slower cleaner-uppers will hurry to join you. SInging a familiar song at steadily decreasing volume can help bring a group together and quiet, so you can start instruction without battling chatter.

There you go, NE: my three best techniques for taming the transition monster. Now, awesome readers, please share your brilliance in the comments, because I  KNOW you know way more things than me.

And don’t worry, i won’t leave you hanging this long again!

Have a question for Miss Night and the readers? Click on the button to submit it.

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Ask Miss Night: Potty Punishment?

As promised last week, today’s question is about bathroom breaks in primary school.  The “asker” is not a teacher, but a grandmother who is raising two of her grandchildren. She pulled them out of foster care to raise them herself — so let’s call her SuperGrandma!

SuperGrandma asks:

After reading your “Why I don’t do behaviour charts” story, I forwarded the link to my grandchildren’s principal along with my opinion of the story on asked whether they were using these in class and if so, they may want to rethink.  Coincidentally enough, last night I mentioned open house next week at school and my grandson,7, in 2nd grade, stated that he was not going.  (…) I dug a little further and he blurted out that in class they cannot use the restroom unless it is at recess or after school because their teacher says it takes time away from learning. If they need to go during class they must “pull a stick” to red. Trying to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt, I suggested to my grandson that maybe it was his behaviour coupled with having to go.  He said it wasn’t and was so upset that he HAD to pull his stick because he was going to go in his pants and he loses 5 minutes of recess for pulling the stick to red.  This morning I called the teacher and asked her if it was true.  She matter-of-factly told me it was and that it is 2nd grade policy. I am appalled! I bit my tongue, but told her that my grandson actually has medical issues and has signed forms in his file from a doctor, stating he is to go to the restroom every 2 hours whether he needs to or not, and must be allowed to go if he needs to. All she said was, she didn’t know and she would check his file. Does this happen in any other classroom? Are children punished for having to use the restroom? I can understand if there was a consequence for abusing restroom breaks. I am angry, but don’t want to start the school year off on a bad note.  I would like to bring this up with the principal, any suggestions? Advice?

So, to recap: the second grade teacher has a system whereby children must “pull a stick” if they need to go to the bathroom during instructional time, and if they pull a stick, they lose 5 minutes of recess. Also, the teacher was less-than-responsive to the possibility of a legitimate medical issue that should allow SuperGrandson to use the bathroom whenever he needs to. As a result of all this, SuperGrandson is already hating school after only a few weeks.

Ok, so let’s just start with the fact that every time I have re-read SuperGrandma’s message, I have felt my blood pressure rise and my heart start to pound. There are so many pieces of this that are upsetting to me, and, while all the pieces are related, I’m going to try and stay calm and address them separately. So, take a deep breath, friends, and lets dive in….

First a preface: all of my points below assume that there are no other behaviour issues relating to the use of the bathroom. I’m thinking here of things like: wandering the halls instead of going straight to and from the restroom, asking for bathroom breaks to avoid classroom activities that may be “boring” or difficult, having “bathroom parties” with other little boys who may be in there (someone PLEASE tell me I am not the only teacher who regularly breaks up this sorts of parties, which usually involve splashing water and squirting soap at one another…?!). That said, on to my thoughts:

1: The use of a behaviour management “system.”  You all already know how I feel about this. This particular situation is actually a great illustration of why I think these systems do not serve children well at all. A class-wide system does not allow for the particular needs of this particular child without his medical issue becoming public, possibly embarrassing, knowledge. In a relationship-based classroom, the needs of individual children can be accommodated INDIVIDUALLY, in a way that reinforces an important life lesson: Fair doesn’t mean same.

2: Bathroom use being considered a behaviour issue, and having a consequence. Even without SuperGrandson having a medical issue that affects his toileting needs, second graders are still very young, and many still have pretty short warning periods before they are at risk of having an accident. Even in kindergarten, we can work with children to start being aware of the best times to leave the classroom. (I have been known to ask “Is it an emergency, or can you wait until the end of circle/your friend is back/after the story?”) but a child who reports that it is an emergency should ALWAYS be allowed to go the bathroom when they need to go. This policy is also a little self-serving: I’d really rather not deal with toileting accidents if I can possibly prevent it. I’m surprised that a second grade teacher is willing to risk accidents by being punitive in her approach to bathroom routines.

Illustrative example: when I was in third grade, my teacher had a system where we had to write our names on the board the first time we went to the bathroom each day, and we had to add a checkmark to our times every subsequent time. At the end of the day, she would point out who had been to the bathroom the most times. I have NEVER seen or heard of so many toileting accidents – in THIRD grade.

Bottom line: The system of “pulling a stick” turns normal toileting into a behavioural issue, and that makes me very uncomfortable.

3: Losing recess as a consequence. Ok this probably deserves a blog post of its very own, but I am of the opinion that primary-aged children should generally NOT lose recess time as a consequence for in-class issues (never mind something like toileting, which should not BE an “issue” to begin with.)  Recess is not a “treat,” it is an important and valuable part of the school day. Exercise, fresh air, unstructured time with friends are POSITIVE, important, contributors to children’s growth and learning. Taking these things away is likely to make behaviour challenges WORSE, not better. Considering toileting a behaviour issue makes this practice even more questionable to me.

4: Poor response to a legitimate medical concern. If SuperGrandson has a medical concern that requires him to have free access to the restroom, that should immediately trump any classroom system or “second grade policy.” Additionally, any medical issues (especially one that affects something as sensitive as toileting) should be dealt with as discreetly and respectfully as possible. To me, that would mean completely removing toileting from the list of offenses that require “pulling a stick”  for ANY of the students. (I would take it one step further, and suggest it would mean dismantling the entire “stick system,” but that may be too much to ask for.)

So, SuperGrandma, my advice is this: first, I would request a face-to-face meeting with the teacher, and ask her to describe the philosophy behind the “system” as well as share the complete list of offenses that require kids to pull a stick. I think that listening to her first will create a more positive environment for both of you. I would then explain SuperGrandson’s medical concerns, and request that toileting not have any negative consequences for him. I don’t know if you will have any success requesting the removal of the behaviour system, but it may be worth asking if the “second grade policy” could exclude toileting for ALL the children. If that meeting is not productive or satisfactory, I would then speak with the principal.

This is a tough one, because there are two “levels” of concern: 1 – looking after SuperGrandson’s specific needs, and 2 – questioning systems and policies that affect ALL of the children in 2nd grade. While I am hopeful that SuperGrandma can address level 1 satisfactorily, I am more cautious about the likelihood of change at level 2.. My best hope is that this conversation, about THIS child, may, at some point, prompt the teacher to re-consider….

Readers – anything I missed? Any light to shed?

SuperGrandma – any updates now that we are several weeks into the school year?

Happy weekend to all!

Miss Night

Click here to submit your own question to Miss Night:

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“Behaviour management”: not systems, but relationships

UPDATE, July 16, 2014: This post has morphed into a whole series of posts about how and why to manage your classroom using relationships instead of charts and systems. To read the whole series, please visit my Chuck the Chart page.

Preface: I continue to be overwhelmed, in the best possible way, at the response to Too High A Price: Why I Don’t Do Behavior Charts. It seems I really struck a chord with many readers. Thanks to all of you who shared that post, and especially to those who commented, saying it changed (or was going to change) your practice. I am honoured. In the comments on that post (as well as in a question submitted to Ask Miss Night), many of you asked how I DO manage behaviour in my classroom. At long last, here is the follow-up!

How do I manage behaviour in my classroom?

As silly as it sounds, this question caught me a little off-guard. How do I manage behaviour without charts or stickers or a treasure chest? I just DO.

That answer, of course, is woefully inadequate. Obviously, there are things I DO, guiding principles I follow. The challenge becomes putting those things into words. You all would not believe the number of showers and car rides I have spent trying to articulate exactly how and why and when and where I manage behaviour in my classoom. (Come on, admit it, you do your best thinking in the shower and the car, too…)

So, gallons of water and tanks of gas later, here are the points that kept floating to the surface. They are sort of in a logical order, but also all inter-related. They have come from so many places: the kind of parenting I received, the schools I attended, reading and research, experience  both broad (thousands of children, literally) and specific (singular moments that changed my practice forever). Before I begin, a sidebar: I am not in love with the terms “management” and “behaviour” in this context; both have connotations that make me uncomfortable. I use them here for the sake of clarity. The issue of vocabulary seems like another post, for another day.

  • Fact: I do not run a permissive classroom. I have heard parents say “there is no nonsense in Miss Night’s room,” and they are correct (note that, in spite of the lack of nonsense, my room is still full of laughter and smiles and hugs and songs and music and fun). I have high high expectations for my students, but those expectations are grounded in trust and faith that children, given the right support, and the right environment, can manage themselves very nicely. The children in my room get lots of freedom and lots of choice, but they also know that those freedoms and choices are privileges. That said, at first glance, my classroom might APPEAR permissive, because:
  • I have a very specific definition of  “problem behaviour.” A behaviour is ONLY a problem if it interferes with a child’s safety and learning or the safety and learning of others. Period. A behaviour that is annoying to me is not automatically a problem. Think on that for a minute. How often have you reprimanded or disciplined a child for doing something that was annoying you? I’m embarrassed to say how often I have done just that (let’s be clear – I am far from perfect in all this….) With this definition, a whole bunch of things STOP being problems — wiggling during circle; slouching in a chair; looking at the ceiling during a story, sitting on their knees instead of their bottoms; walking in a zig-zag instead of a straight line — unless and until it becomes obvious that these things are dangerous or detrimental to learning.
  •  Fair doesn’t mean same. Fair means everybody gets what they need. This is one of the first social lessons I teach, and we talk about this A LOT. The example I use is that, if fair means same, then EVERYONE should eat when *I* am hungry, because otherwise it’s not fair. On the other hand, if fair means everybody gets what they need, then everybody should get to eat when they are hungry. Five-year-olds have no problem grasping this, and we discuss it repeatedly throughout the year. Without teaching this lesson, I could not run my classroom the way I do. It lays the foundation for the next two points.
  • I manage children as individuals, not as a group. Johnny concentrates better sitting on a chair than on the floor; Johnny is allowed a chair at story time. Natasha has no problem on the floor. She does not get a chair. Natasha does, however, have trouble printing her name, so on her work, I write her name in highlighter for her to trace over for the first several weeks. Samantha has no problem with her name, but struggles to keep her hands to herself. She can choose a fidget toy during whole group instruction. Raymond is the only child who frequently falls asleep at rest time; he is the only one who is allowed to rest behind my desk so that he will not be disturbed when we start centres. When you really get to know your students, you know that EVERY child has “special needs.” When the children understand what “fair” means, you can meet those needs without worrying about accusations of favouritism. (Although, sometimes, you have to teach parents and colleagues what “fair” means, too.)
  • I normalize the tools that help children manage their own behaviour. Just as students ask for help with their school work, they need to know it is okay to ask for help with their behaviour. If a child asks for a break from the carpet, she can have it. If he knows he will do better in line by walking with me, he can. If she can’t stop chatting with her neighbour, I will help her find a place to work alone. Leaving the carpet, holding my hand, sitting alone, are NOT punishments: I don’t present them as punishments, and I work hard to change the kids’ perception of punishment. These are choices and tools that help children be their best selves. These are also choices that, as adults, we frequently have the freedom to make for ourselves. And, speaking of choices:
  • Choice is a privilege. My students get lots of choices. They choose their first activity upon arrival. They choose which “work” to do first. They choose where to lay at rest time. They choose their play centres. They choose when to have afternoon snack. Kids like having choices, having a voice in the path their day takes. But (and it’s a BIG “but”) if they are not managing those choices well, the privilege of choice is lost. A child who is wondering the classroom, harassing others and not settling into an activity, will be assigned an activity. A child who is kicking her neighbour at rest time will be assigned a spot with no neighbours. I rarely need any consequences other than “loss of choice.”
  • I look for patterns. If I am constantly correcting the same behaviour from the same child at the same time in the same spot every day: is there a way to break the pattern? If there is pushing in the lineup to wash hands EVERY DAY, how can I change the lineup routine? Can I give them more space? Send some to the bathroom? Make the lineup go faster? Give them something to do while they wait? Sometimes, changing the pattern means changing what I think I know about something. After months of intervening with little boys playing “too rough,” I did some research, talked to some people, and re-framed my understanding of  rough-and-tumble play. Looking for patterns with individual children works, too. If Peter lashes out and hits other kids in the crowded coatroom, maybe Peter would manage better if his cubby was not IN THE MIDDLE of the coatroom. Again, in an environment where “fair doesn’t mean same” and children are given choices and tools to meet their needs, Peter will likely accept an offer to move his cubby, and, because he CHOSE, it doesn’t feel like punishment.
  • I don’t have “systems.” I have relationships. As I re-read these now, it is that simple. I cannot think of a single system or routine in my classroom that is applied universally to every child at all times in all situations. What works for one does not work for another and makes things even worse for a third. I have had situations with specific children where the best way to communicate about behaviour was to have a private “chart” that went home every day. This is not my favourite strategy, but it was the best one for THAT child and THAT family in THAT situation. For other kids, it has been best to cue them in advance of any potentially challenging event. For still others, we have role-played and practiced the right words and actions.
I know there are naysayers out there, who will find this all too nebulous, too airy-fairy and hippie-dippie to be manageable. I don’t have an answer for those people. For me, these 8 truths simply work. I don’t know if they will work for you, too. I would, however, challenge you to try just one of them. Re-define problematic behaviour. Find and change a pattern. Focus on your relationship with a challenging child. And then, please, come back here and let me know how it went.
Need more detail? Unsure of how to apply this to a specific child or situation? Submit your question to Ask Miss Night!
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