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Guest Post- What If We Reframed 'Disturbing the Learning of Others?'

We read this wonderful blog post from our friend Aviva Dunsiger, Junior/Senior Kindergarten teacher in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and we knew we just had to share with our community!

Aviva Dunsiger has taught everything from Kindergarten to Grade 6 and enjoys blogging about her teaching and learning experiences. She writes professionally on her blog, Living Avivaloca. Aviva is very passionate about Self-Regulation and has learned a lot thanks to Stuart Shanker, Susan Hopkins, and The MEHRIT Centre. When not teaching, Aviva is an avid reader — especially of mysteries — and loves to spend time with her two cockapoos.

From Living Avivaloca, What If We Reframed "Disturbing the Learning of Others?"

At the beginning of August, I listened to the VoicEd Radio Program where Heather Swail and Paul McGuire were chatting with Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley about various posts from Ontario Edubloggers. They discussed one of my blog posts at the time. At around the 17 minute and 53 second mark, Paul made a comment that really got me thinking: “A child does not have the right to disturb the learning of others.” I was going to blog a response at the time, but I chose to wait. After various experiences in this first month of school, Paul’s comment and my thinking at the time (and now) inspired a post. 

I understand what Paul’s saying, and I would be lying if I said that I haven’t uttered these words — or similar ones — to administrators in the past. Even with my growing understanding of Self-Reg, I’ve reached different points of frustration. I’ve wondered if it really is possible to do it all. What impact are the behaviours of some children having on the entire classroom environment? Is this affecting my own mental health and well-being? What about the mental health and well-being of kids? But then, in the past couple of years, my thinking has started to change.

I’ve started to wonder, what message are we communicating (even unintentionally) to students, to parents, to administrators, and to colleagues, when we talk about “disturbing the learning of others?” To me, this statement implies that the behaviour is intentional. What if it’s not? I’m not going to pretend that it’s not still challenging when we’re dealing with these behaviours: from hitting and grabbing to throwing and screaming. I’ve dealt with my fair share of these problems over the years, and it’s hard. For kids. For educators. For parents. And for administrators. But at the beginning of last year, I started to think about just how much we can learn from THAT child, and how at times, all kids can be THAT kid

In the past couple of years, my teaching partner, Paula, and I have done a lot of thinking about THAT child. I think that this thinking has also changed our responses. 

  • We ask each other Stuart Shanker‘s questions of, “Why this child? Why now?,” more often, and we look at how to reduce the stressors that might be causing the behaviour. 

  • We try to model calm responses in our actions and in our toneThis isn’t always easy, and we’re not always perfect, but we try. 

  • We elicit the help of students if possible. Kids connect with kids on a different level, and children respond to their peers differently. When students are also involved in this problem solving, they often learn about the benefits of empathy, and see how much they can do to support each other. 

All week long, I watched what our kids — these young learners — did to support their peers.

Then yesterday, as children were coming in and joining our meeting time on the carpet, one child let out a scream. Another child accidentally touched him, and he was upset. Without prompting, one of our SK children that was sitting up front, turned to him, offered his hand, and said, “Why don’t you come up and sit next to me? That will make you feel better.” And with that, my heart melts. 

  • When we model not to be scared, kids aren’t scared.

  • When we show that the tears, the screams, and the hitting are unintentional and caused by stress, and that we can support a different response, kids do the same.

They see behaviour differently, just as we do. And in many of my experiences, with this additional child support, we also see a reduction in a lot of behaviours. I know that there are exceptions to every rule, and for some kids, maybe a different environment or additional support is necessary. But sometimes I wonder if our actions, our tone, our own fears, and our concerns about everyone else, inadvertently increases behaviour, even as we try to decrease it.  

This past week, I’ve watched what kids learn as they support peers that are struggling. This may not be academic learning, but it’s incredibly valuable learning! I think about one of our parents, who, when she drops off her child each morning, reminds her to “be kind.” This is her goal for the day, and what a wonderful goal it is. And every day, she goes out of her way to do exactly that. If, as a school system, we support children in developing kindness, empathy, and love, I think that then we’ve done a pretty marvellous job. Imagine how we could then change trajectories for kids. How do you support your children in doing just that? As a new week begins, we have another perfect opportunity to make a difference. Let’s also be there to show our children that they can do the same!


Many thanks to Aviva Dunsiger for permission to share her thoughts and experiences with the Anastasis Community!

(For more of Aviva's photos from this post, please read her original post, in its entirety.)

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