What if I had just…


As teachers, we can’t help but be aware of the mistakes we make and what might have happened if we had just stopped to listen.  

It was late afternoon in the twos and we had watercolors out. W and E were sharing a palette, working on their own paintings, while I stayed close by observing. W’s dad walked in, said “Hey, Buddy!” and headed to the shelf to grab his lunchbox.  Suddenly, I heard a scream erupt from E, and when I looked W was standing up with the paint palette. I knelt down and put my hand on the palette so he couldn’t move away. “Hey W, this stays at the table.” That’s when the meltdown happened. He began to scream and pull.  I picked him up, and being all too aware that Dad was watching, I began to explain to the screaming child in my arms that we only have two sets of paints, and that means we have to keep them on the table so everyone can use them. I took the paints from W and placed them back on the table for E to continue and W’s dad came and took him.  How embarrassing!

Looking back on this moment, I thought about all the things I wish I could change about this moment and there are many.  The most obvious mistake might be that I tried to reason away W’s feelings with my explanations, instead of jumping to empathy, which he clearly needed first and foremost.  Or that I immediately took E’s side and was being inflexible about the paints (no surprise there to anyone that has seen me supervise the watercolors). But even before that is where I think my biggest mistake happened.  If I had just stopped myself, before touching the paint palette, and asked W what his plan was, we might have avoided the whole meltdown. What if W was just excited to show his dad this set of paints he had been working with?  We could have negotiated with E and made a plan. Perhaps E would have been comfortable with him taking the paints to show his dad, then bringing them back, or maybe E could have moved over and used the other paint palette.

Of course there is always the possibility that W was exhausted and ready to let loose after seeing dad, and even my slowing down might have resulted in a meltdown. There are lots of possibilities, and as teachers, what we choose to focus on in the moment drives the interaction.  When you don’t stop to ask, you miss opportunities to connect, and problem solve.

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