Teachers, especially preschool teachers, rarely really know if what they're trying to get across is coming through. Sometimes, I suppose, if you convey a fact, like "the sun rises in the east," and a child later paints a picture of the sun rising in the east, you can give yourself a pat on the back, but you really never know about the important stuff. You do your best, you repeat yourself, you take it from different angles, and you hope that some of it gets through.
If you've been following along, you'll know our Pre-K students have been working on developing the habits and skills of empathizing with others (I've shared some of the things we've done here, here, and here). I've tried to be creative in my approach, weaving it into our everyday activities and discussions, avoided the dreaded lecture, looking for moments when it makes sense to pop in with a line like, "I can tell by looking at his face that he's angry," or "MLK used words instead of fists, just like you."
One of our old standbys, is the ever popular compliment chain. Essentially, the way it works is that the kids take turns giving one another compliments. We have these little plastic chain links and each time a compliment is given we add one to the chain, which then hangs on hooks from the ceiling overhead. The stated goal each year is to make a chain that goes "all the way around" our circle time rug.
When I call on a raised hand, I'll usually say something like, "Sasha, who do you want to make feel good?" then she'll name someone, go over to them with an "I like your shirt," or an "I like your shoes." I'll then reinforce it with a comment like, "I see Ava is smiling. I can tell that made her feel good." Sometimes I'll even add, "You're very powerful."
A typical session of compliments will feature kids being kind mostly to their best buddies, singling them out for this special power to convey good feelings. Yesterday, however, was different. When it came time for one of our Pre-K kids to give their compliments, each one who chose to give a compliment named instead of a best friend, one of their younger classmates, like Sarah or Sylvia or Violet. At first I thought, Wait a minute, certainly they're just picking those kids because those are the ones in their line of sight, but in at least 2 instances, the boys named the child first, then had to search for her.
Were they really thinking about their younger classmates? Were they really seeking them out to make them feel good? Did this have anything to do with our focused work of the last few weeks? Or was it as Ariya and Suriya's mom Aya joked, just Valentine's in the air?
I'll never know, but teachers sometimes have to take what they can get. Let me tell you, as our session broke up to move on to the next part of the day, I was fighting back tears.