Monday, November 07, 2011

"We Need To Get These Boxes Opened."

Last week we received 7 large boxes. We brought them into the classroom and I said, "We need to get these boxes opened."

"What's in them, Teacher Tom?"

I regret that I answered, "Presents." 

I should have just said, "Stuff," although I don't think it matters too much in the big picture.

They realized soon enough that they were opening boxes of school supplies.

And that was every bit as motivating as an idiotic promise of presents. (I must constantly concentrate on waiting, at least for a second or two, before speaking. Verbally leaping in before I've taken a moment to properly phrase my comments is one of my greatest weaknesses as a teacher.)

I am, however, proud of having said, "We need to get these boxes opened." I didn't urge or ask or cajole. I merely made a statement of fact about our community.

I didn't give them any tools, despite the layers of packing tape, some of it even reinforced with string.

I did not help, except to say, "We aren't playing with these things today," and "They go on that bench over there."

The picture above is the beginnings of the kids' own organization. I did not instruct them on how to do it. They worked it out among themselves, just as they did with opening the boxes. "We need to turn it over." "Help me pull this part." "If we open it a little more we can get the paint out."

It's really rather remarkable that they were able to get through all that tape with just their fingernails and fingertips. I would have used a box cutter. It's amazing how powerful we are when we work together.

Some of the kids worked far more persistently than others, of course, but most of them pitched in at least a little over the course of the full hour we worked on the project. The ones who worked hardest did not resent the ones who worked least.

The most important word in my original statement, "We need to get these boxes open," was the word "we." 

This school, this community, this democracy belongs to all of us. When there is something that needs to be done, it is not his job or her job, but our job.

This is one of the most important habits of self-governance, of citizenship: pitching in.

When you are in a group in which the majority sits back and lets others do the work, you are probably dealing with people who feel disenfranchised. When people feel real ownership in their society, this is simply what they do. 

And in the end, the children got those boxes unpacked.

It was something we needed to do, so we did it.

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Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings said...

Love it, thank you Teacher Tom! "The most important word in my original statement, "We need to get these boxes open," was the word "we." So, so true.

Lisa Sunbury said...

This is so powerful. Something that occurred to me as I read: you gave the children agency and ownership by stating what needed to be done, giving them space, and trusting(expecting- "it's ours") them to work together to get the job done well. You didn't micromanage, insist they follow your directions, have a meeting, and then form a committee before allowing them to touch the boxes. Yet they figured it out. And they're young children. Imagine that!

Anonymous said...

Nice job... I guess they did learn something although I do not know if they have noticed it... With the complete co-operation of your friends you can achieve anything...
Math Practice

Nana said...

I'd like to see adults cooperate as well as your students. I'd like adults recognize common goals! Very powerful.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

I love the cooperation of these children, and they did such a superb job of sorting things in an organized way on the shelf.
Children are capable of much, if we allow them!

Danielle said...

Hello, I have been reading your blog for about 2 years - you are a great source of inspiration and ideas. :D

I wanted to share with you that I tried the "stating what work needs to get done" method instead asking for help in my preschool class and with my after-school kindergarteners on Thursday. Well, I knew of the method before your blog, but I never really tried more than once or twice because it never seemed to work... Many times when requested to help pick up toys the reply is, "But I didn't play with those!" The focus was on the individual instead of the community. And so I succumbed to the frustrating always asking-for-help-and-never-getting-it routine. So, after reading your recent posts, I wanted to try again and so I switched my focus to statements. The preschoolers didn't really get into it, so i will keep trying with them...

BUT my kinders - Omg! It was amazing! Before snack, the classroom needs to be picked up. Many times we have snack-ers sitting down at the table before the room is ready. The kids sitting at the table were asking, "What's for snack, Ms Danielle?" I replied, "Right now I'm cleaning up and I would only like to talk about cleaning up. I can answer your question when the room is picked up again." I went right back to acknowledging the children who WERE still picking up the toys. It took less than 15 seconds before a child, who had been sitting for snack, came to the block center to help with the other children. And it took even less time before the other kids at the table joined us. For the first time this school year, I had all 9 kindergarteners working together to clean the class... I was amazed and so, SO, so proud. :D

Later, I told my site supervisor about what had happened, she could hardly believe me. Teacher Tom is genius! lol... Thanks for the reminder. :)

Sarah said...

Hi Teacher Tom! I just wanted to say thanks for always reminding us of how capable our children are.

I thought about this story of the boxes when I gave my class of two and three year olds a pumpkin to open up in the sensory table. It was really hard for them, especially because all we had were large spoons and the forks they appropriated from the dramatic play area. They got frustrated and mad, but were so proud every time they made a dent or scratch or hole(!) in the pumpkin.

A fluctuating group of about seven worked on it for a good twenty minutes before I had to leave my protective guard duty and come back. When I got back, I found that another teacher had finished opening the pumpkin for them. They all showed me proudly, but once it was open, the pumpkin just wasn't as much fun anymore.

But anyways, every time in those twenty minutes that I started to feel worried about whether the other, more experienced, teachers would approve or not, I just thought that Teacher Tom would be okay with it, so they should be, too. Thanks!

Teacher Tom said...

@Sarah . . . Thanks! Speaking of pumpkins, those pumpkin saws they sell in all the grocery stores around Halloween are perfectly safe for young children to use. I've been handing them to children for the past several years. In other countries they sell them year-round as "children's knives."