How to Reach out and Engage Every Child
Tips for Teachers
Wow, I can’t believe how swiftly summer has flown by this year! As I begin the fall semester teaching at Oakton Community College, many thoughts cross my mind. Will my students this year be serious about their education? Will they be able to write well and contribute to class discussions? Will they complete their assignments and attend class regularly? All of these questions are reasonable and relevant, but perhaps more important is the question of what can I do to be a more effective teacher this year.
It is easy to focus on the students with whom one works, their challenging behaviors, their difficult parents, their potential defiance or shyness or inability to speak English, all of which can make an early childhood teacher’s year more demanding. Indeed, some or all of these children may be in many of our classrooms this year. But the best question to ask is “how will I be able to reach and engage these children and parents? What might I have to do differently this year to be more effective?” That is the tougher question, but it is this question that engenders excellence in teaching.
Best practice tells us that it is our job to reach out and engage every child and to accept each child with what he or she brings into the classroom. It is our challenge to look at how we do this, how we talk to children, how we welcome them, how we arrange our classroom environment to support their successful functioning. This focus on ourselves and what we do with what we encounter in our classrooms each day is what enables us to become truly accomplished teachers.
When a child is defiant, we need to look at both the child’s defiance as well as how we interact with the child in order to reduce that behavior. When a child is withdrawn and does not engage easily, we need to think of new ways to reach out that will not be overwhelming or intimidating for that child. It is this constant reflection about what we are doing with children each day, our willingness to look at our part in interactions and our part in creating a welcoming and inclusive classroom environment, that will lead us towards success.
So focus on creating a neat, orderly environment with age appropriate, stimulating materials and activities in clearly defined areas. Be sure the schedule of the day makes sense for the children, with adequate time for transitions and with extended periods of play in which they can make choices and move around the room to engage with materials and projects. Be prepared to help some children make such choices when they have a hard time. Recognize that not all preschoolers can make appropriate independent play choices each day. Be prepared to get involved in problem solving when conflicts arise, with a focus on hearing what each child feels and finding ways of intervening so that each child can feel heard and will not feel criticized. Use the compliment sandwich when needing to discuss problems!
Have a great year, and be sure to take good care of yourself so that you can continue to be available to the children.
Tips for Parents
As a new school year begins, parents’ thoughts turn to their hopes for their child(ren)’s successful experience. They think about whether their child will have a good teacher, someone who will capture their imagination and encourage them to have fun and to love learning.
There are some things parents can do that will help contribute to their child(ren)’s positive experience at school. First, it is helpful for teachers to know when children have any special talents or vulnerabilities that a teacher could be sensitive to. I have found in my many years of advocating for families that when teachers are told at the beginning of the school year about parents’ concerns or particular information about a child that the teacher might find helpful, they tend to be more empathic with the child and less likely to mistreat the child or misunderstand the child’s needs. Sometimes parents are reluctant to share concerns for fear of their child being labeled, but I have found the opposite to be true in most cases. This requires, of course, that the discussion with the teacher is done in a very respectful way and with appreciation for the teacher’s concern. Assuming positive intent on the part of the teacher, that the teacher wants to be helpful, can often actually help bring about this outcome!
Keeping the teacher informed when changes occur at home, or if a child is worried about something or excited about a planned family event that could possibly affect a child’s behavior at school is very helpful and usually appreciated by the teacher. This too, encourages teachers to feel positively towards the child and the parents who are so communicative.
Asking questions about curriculum, or the classroom schedule, or other issues is to be expected, and teachers appreciate having parents make sure that they approach teachers at a good time, or even ask when would be a good time to chat. Recognizing that teachers can’t spend much time with parents when the children are in the classroom demonstrates respect and builds trust.
Talking with one’s children about the curriculum projects going on in the classroom, making sure that children have the supplies they need, the clothes they need (extras in case of accidents are always appreciated for preschoolers, and being sure that that box stays supplied throughout the year is most helpful!), all help set the stage for a happy and successful school year for all!