Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"I Had It First."

When I arrived on the scene, Anjali and Jack each had a hand on the same red hula hoop, silently arguing over its possession in a contest of leverage and might. Perhaps words had been exchanged before I took the part of referee by putting my own hand on the hoop, but by the time I got there it was all about brute strength.

I asked, "What's happening?"

Jack answered, "I want it."

And Anjali replied, "I had it first."

Jack shot back, "No, I had it first."

Neither of them seemed particularly angry, but they both spoke with conviction. Usually in these tussles there's one child who betrays that he knows he didn't have it "first," but I got the sense that they may well have picked it up simultaneously. The fact that this was taking place on a short flight of concrete stairs may help explain why there was none of the usual violent tugging, and probably mitigated the more intense emotions one or both of them may have otherwise exhibited. They're both approaching 5-years-old, after all, with enough experience to understand the dangers of concrete, stairs, and the precariousness of their situation. The concentration it takes to both fight over a plastic hoop and avoid taking a raspberry-producing fall, at least in part, explains to me why these two normally verbal kids wore silent glares and tight-lips, but remained otherwise under control.

Even the slow motion tug-of-war stopped when I put my hand on the ring, although both maintained a firm grip.

I said, "I see an orange hoop just lying on the ground over there. And a blue one too."

Anjali, "Red's my favorite color."

Jack, "I like red, too. Red is more my favoritist color than hers."

It was actually kind of freaky how calm the kids were. They've been coming to school together for the past 3 years -- over half of their lives. I like to think that their history and friendship were present for both of them in that moment, tempering the kind of preschool conflict that so often turns hysterical, if not violent.

Me, "What should we do?"

Jack, "I don't know."

Anjali, "I don't know."

Luna, another friend of 3 years, was sitting on our "hoppy ball" monitoring the proceedings. I solicited her perspective as an unbiased observer, "Luna, what do you think they ought to do."

She answered without hesitation, bouncing slightly on the ball, "I think they should take turns. First one then the other then the other then the other."

Anjali and Jack, remarkably, continued to lock eyes. Normally by now, at least one of the parties would have resorted to pleading with the adult.

I waited for a reaction, but when it didn't come, I echoed, "Luna thinks you should take turns."

Anjali, "I get it first."

Jack, "That's not fair. I get it first."

Sarah, another friend of 3 years was standing beside me. "How do you think we can solve this problem, Sarah?"

"Maybe they can just play with it together. Maybe they can roll it to each other."

This time they responded to Sarah's suggestion directly, both indicating they they didn't like that idea either.

While Luna and Sarah continued to suggest modified versions of their solutions, Jack and Anjali stood rooted to the spot, their grips tight, their expressions firm, their eyes on one another, but with my hand on the hoop I felt no pulling one way or the other.

I suggested softly, "I could just put this red hoop away and you could both play with different colored hoops." Neither of them liked that.

The three of us were silent. We all knew where this had to go. If the adult wasn't going to force a solution, we all knew that one of them would have to relent. All I was sure of is that it couldn't be me. This is the core of why children go to school. Forget reading, writing and arithmetic, this is it, this is what school is about, boiled down to this moment. We are here to learn how to live with the other people, and sometimes that means setting aside our own agenda for that of another. There was nothing more to be said, and although there was a growing conversation swirling around us about what ought to happen, those two were alone together on those concrete stairs, holding that red hoop, knowing that one of them would need to make the decision to end it.

It seemed like a long time to me, so I know it seemed like a very long time to the kids. But finally, slowly, speaking almost in a mumble as if responding to a request, Jack said, "Oh, okay," and released his grip.

I said, "Jack is being a good friend and letting Anjali have the red hoop first." I wanted everyone around to hear me. "That was a hard thing to do, and he did it!"

Anjali, speaking in a mumble, replied, "Thank you."

I asked, "When you're finished with the hoop will you make sure to give it to Jack?"

She answered that she would.

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SurprisedMom said...

You must have the patience of Job. Of course being a teacher, you would need that patience. I'm happy the children found the solution themselves, but you really deserve a pat on the back for having the patience to let them. Many adults would have just taken the hoop away and that would have been that. You were a teacher in so many ways during this situation that had nothing to do with ABCs.

Eternal Lizdom said...

I'll try it... but I'm not sure it will work so peacefully in my house!

What I typically do is just not care. I just tell them they have to work it out without any fighting and that they'd better find a way to work it out or I will have to take away whatever they are playing with. Sometimes it gets taken and put up. Sometimes it gets taken and given to the child I know had it first, etc. So they usually find a way to sort it out themselves.

Kat said...

It's great how you got the children observing the friction going on between Anjali and Jack do some problem solving to try to help them out of their situation. And kudos to you for not just stepping in and taking the hoop from both of them.

Unknown said...

I am trying to be better about "waiting it out". I try to do conflict resolution similar to yours---but sometimes I do have to settle it. I love that you get other students involved in the problem solving. I do that too, but I've heard other teachers tell "onlookers" to "go play, this doesn't concern you". I think every conflict is a teaching and LEARNING opportunity and sometimes I think some of the other teachers think I'm nuts!! :)

Noah said...

swesome, Teacher Tom! I think you were right on about how what was going on was the crux of why kids are in school - so much learning about being with others together, social skills...i think you modeled beautifully how to calmly talk a way through a conflict, empowering the kids to work it out on their own, and see that THEY are the ones who are capable of resolving the situations they create and are a part of. YAY!
Learning so much from your witnessed and reported experiences - thanks!

Ms Debbie said...

I think you hit the nail on the head about " this is why we go to school". My hope is that each of my kiddos leave me with a sense of joy in learning and the ability to function in a group setting. Kudos to you for letting kids work it out instead of losing faith in their little minds and doing it for them!

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Great story and so true. It is so hard to not solve the problems for them, especially due to time constraints, but once I learned, "Solve that problem," the solving of problems got remarkably better.

Mariah said...

Wonderful! Your students are so lucky to have you, guide (not direct) them through these moments :)

It would be fun to snap a quick photo of the moment and post it on a wall as an example of being a "good friend". You (and the children) could add to it over time.

Domestic CEO said...

What a wonderful story. I am really trying to take the idea of making observations instead of dictating what should happen and use it - I love how you did that and involved the inevitable onlookers in offering suggestions.

Launa Hall said...

Great story. I recently read that many classroom teachers wait about one second between asking a question and either answering it or asking a follow-on question. Your story reminds me that the thinking we want children to do is worth waiting for. The next time I am refereeing a tug-of-war, I will try to remember the red hoola hoop, and WAIT.

Deborah Stewart said...

Oh, oh, oh, that was such a painful moment to read even though it happens all the time. I love your patience throughout their struggle and I especially love the solutions offered by the threes! Sometimes I find teachers just want to come to a quick end and would just take the ring away - it takes great maturity as a teacher to realize what the core issue is and then to patiently guide students to a reasonable and fair solution.

pamela Wallberg said...

You know, driving home tonight (I lie. Stuck in olympic traffic, not driving anywhere, just waiting...) I was thinking about what I was going to work on for my turn to post - and I am noticing the same freakish calm decision making in our 4's. Everything rides on the decision, it is an important decision, but there is no yelling, no crying, just....calm and rational thought processes. Sometimes teachers are being called in to suggest new options, but...I haven't seen tears or heard upset shouts from the 4's in weeks.


Linda said...

This is definitely an inspiration to me to calm down myself and not get personally involved in the situation. I think the waiting is the hardest because there are often other children in my classroom dealing with similar conflicts at the same moment. (Either that someone has an accident in the bathroom or needs help with something else). They all want/need my attention. It's almost like a radar goes out signaling to everyone else that I have a situation to deal with and if they want a piece of the action they need to act fast. LOL! Lately I'm seeing more of these kind of conflicts from my prek graduates (kindergarten and first graders) after school than the preschoolers themselves.
Thanks for the inspiration!

Strawberry Girl said...

Fantastic, I love the analysis and the way that you explain your reaction to the situation. It gives me a good idea about how to handle a similar situation (something that is difficult to figure out even though I have handled all age ranges of kids over the years)...

Thank you so much for posting this and for your blog, I will definitely return to read more later on! :)

Saya said...

I love this. With all my heart.
Help children Gaining these social skills are the most important thing to me... I don't care how smart you are, you can't live in this world comfortably if you don't know how to get along with other people.
I love what Jack did, and how Anijali did not forget to say "thank you" to him. Good for them!

Play for Life said...

You are good ... you are really good!
Donna :)