You know those choose-your-own-ending books? The kind where, depending on your decisions, the story could go several ways? I had one of those moments a few weeks ago…
I walked into a brand new school and met a three-year-old. He walked up to me with a shoe in his hand and announced, "I have Star Wars shoes."
Me: Yes, I see that you have a Star Wars shoe.
Him: Star Wars is scary.
Whoop, there it is! This was a crossroads if I ever saw one. I knew that my response to that comment could end the interaction immediately, keep the story neutral, or add to the conversation.
I had some choices: (Not a complete list!)
1. OK, honey, but you need to put your shoe back on.
2. Star Wars isn't that scary; why did your mom let you watch it in the first place?
3. The only thing scary around here is your smelly shoe. Phew!
4. Sweetie, everything is scary to you. Really, you need to buck up.
5. Are you saying your shoe is scary?
6. What does scary mean to you?
The response I chose was #5.
Me: Are you saying your shoe is scary?
Me: Hmm, what do you want to do about that?
Him: I DON’T KNOW!
My mind spun as I wondered how to solve this for him: Should I suggest putting tape over the words "Star Wars"? Should we talk about going barefoot? I realized I was playing a stop and start game in my head as I battled with the possibilities. I told myself to stop this, that my new friend will be able to figure this out on his own. Then this happened:
Him: I like Star Wars—Chewbacca!
Me: You know, not all characters in Star Wars are scary or bad. Some are heroes.
(Do not ask me where I pulled that out of. I think that when he said he liked the movie, I remembered that it had a happy ending.)
Me: Yes. Do you know what a hero is?
Him: Yes, I wanna be a hero!
Me: Do you want to be a Star Wars hero?
Me: Ok. So what do you think you need to do?
Him: Put my shoe back on!
As I reflect on this, I'm surprised that, even after close to thirty years of teaching, I still must practice absolute intentional regard as I respond to children. This is a "think on your feet" kind of job. For some people, that may be scary. They may not know what to say, so they avoid trying something new. This fear of saying the wrong thing may eventually stop both the teacher and the children from learning.
One lesson I took from Reggio was that teachers must be comfortable with failure. They are role models who support and nurture the children's thinking and learning. They are not in the classroom to be experts on every topic, and they should know and embrace their limitations. Only when they accept that they don't know everything are they able to truly collaborate with children.
At the end of our study tour, we were asked to write and frame a quote that we wanted to remember. Here is mine:
"Be passionate about everything, including your limitations." (Ironic that the frame broke, isn't it?)
In what ways do you support and nurture thinking in your classroom? Do you have any surprising experiences to share where you’ve had to think on your feet? I’d love to hear your comments.