When people help others it makes people feel good, like when Destiny got me ice for my finger. - Hank, age 4.
In order to offer a free environment, where children learn by experience, we must accept that part of that experience will be the expression of the child’s feelings, thoughts, and concerns. In order to accept the person for who they are and meet them where they are at, we must above all else, listen.
Being Present for Children: This means that the teachers’ first and most important job is to be present for the children so that they can hear and listen. The teachers are most often found squatting down or sitting at the child’s level to make themselves more accessible. They will be listening intently and observing, always with the intention that the child has something important to share, whether that is with their words, their actions, or their work. Even if the child is merely crying or even hitting someone, that is their way of attempting to tell us something, and it is our job to listen. As we listen, we must also keep the image of the child as successful and capable in our minds.
Attachment: Through listening, through hugs and carrying, and also through caring for the child’s basic needs, the children create attachments to the teachers that can keep them grounded while their parents are gone. This bond is important and we work to keep it strong so that they will feel comfortable and trusted even when we must step in to help solve a conflict. It is important for parents to understand that we do have a very loving, affectionate environment, where it is expected that children and teachers will have appropriate physical contact, as this is healthy for human development.
Trust: In order to build a solid attachment, it is important that parents trust the teachers so that the children can also feel that trust. To support this, we encourage parents to connect with the teachers regularly to relay their own feelings and thoughts and also updates on what is going on at home. This can be at pick-up and drop-off, as well as through our Learning Dialogues. We also have many community events so that parents and teachers get to know each other as people, as well, continuing to strengthen our community interdependence. In addition, parents are strongly encouraged to attend our Communication Workshop in order to learn the tools used here at school, creating more consistency between home and school.
Scaffolding: Sometimes, the child might encounter a small struggle, maybe it is just tripping and falling, or maybe their zipper is stuck, or maybe someone just ran by and grabbed what they were holding. These seemingly small struggles get in the way of them being fully capable of self-regulating. These are moments where we make ourselves available to offer scaffolding -- basically a small boost so that they can continue to operate independently. This could be a hand on the shoulder while they pick themselves up, a quick zipper unsticking, or a simple suggestion, “did you want to let them know you weren’t done with that?”
Limits: Our community has some basic predefined limits, the primary one being that we respect others, ourselves and the school’s materials. Beyond that we help children learn that different people have different limits, and different spaces have different limits (for example, in the library the limit is that people keep quieter voices so that others’ can focus). We also involve children in creating the specific limits, such as the limits for a particular activity or when something new comes up, such as the K-12 loft. When children go “off-track” and break the limits, or forget, we gently remind them to give them the opportunity to stop themselves, and if necessary we help them to stop and find another way to get their needs met.
Expressing Feelings: As part of setting a limit or when conflicts occur, big feelings can come up and children will cry, yell, and at times even tantrum. We recognize these feelings as another natural way that children communicate, and we create space to listen, rather than asking that feelings be set aside for some alternate agenda. We support the child in finding safe outlets for feelings that do not hurt others, but do allow pent-up emotions to be released, understanding that when people are having a tantrum they are responding from the “fight-or-flight” part of their brain and they need to be supported, rather than punished, to learn to self-regulate and return to their “thinking” brain.
Active Listening: When we listen, we are actively engaging with them to help validate that it is okay to have feelings. We do this by using reflective listening, where we echo back to them and to others what we hear them saying. Sometimes we can also help translate, so that when they use words such as “you are stupid” we can translate to “I hear that you are very upset with them,” again modeling how to transform hurt feelings into compassionate communication. In doing this we can help the reptilian brain heal any stress or trauma and we can allow the person space to solve their own problems, building confidence and self-awareness.
Non-Violent Communication: Once children have had an opportunity to express any feelings they might be having regarding a situation, we help them to formulate their thoughts in terms of an “I feel statement” such as “I am feeling sad that you took my toy... I need to finish with it, would you be willing to give it back until I am done?” We then support each child in expressing their feelings, observations, needs and requests so that we can democratically reach a solution that is workable for all.
Conflict Resolution: We do not use any rewards or punishment, and we do not consider anyone to be a victim or a perpetrator. Such methods of behavior management are designed to keep children obedient, rather than helping them to develop their own moral compass. Instead we recognize conflicts as opportunities to learn. We work to determine each person’s needs and work together to solve our problems. This is sometimes referred to as “restorative justice.”
Consensus & Critical Thinking: When working through a conflict or trying to make a decision, we utilize consensus-based decision making at all levels of the organization, from the board meetings, to the staff meetings, all the way to a small conflict between two individual children. This means that before a discussion or meeting is concluded, all parties must be in agreement, often requiring much more critical and creative thinking than a mere vote, which often leaves an upset minority.
Openness: One of the founding principles of The Patchwork School was that we would always remain open to new ideas and would never conclude that we were “done.” In this way we acknowledge that we are all always learning, that we are all capable of growing, and that we are all human.
Balance: It may be clear, or it may not be, from reading the various pages of this website, that in almost all aspects of the school, we are striving for balance. We want to balance freedom with responsibility, academics with play, standing up for one’s needs with compassion for others, etc. This is a MUCH tougher challenge than choosing one thing to stand for, so it means that in every situation we must evaluate it for itself, on its own merits, rather than leaning on prioritization or rules. Acknowledging this helps us to remember that there is one thing we can look to when make a judgement call, and that is balance.
Being Present for Ourselves: Just as we start our job with being present for the children, we must end it with a task that is no less important -- we must be present for ourselves. This means that all of the adults in the community must practice self care and presence so that we may be free of our own big feelings when we are working with the children. To this end we offer many resources for parents and teachers to find support within the community. Parents and Teachers are people, too, and we must model that if we are to convince our children of it.
Resources: Please be sure to see the Social Emotional section of the Resources page for more information.