Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nonviolent Communication and learning the Preschool way

As I started my first week of teaching at Tumbleweed, I felt a strong desire to encompass all the research, reflection, and pedagogy from training into my teaching. It soon became apparent that this was not going to work. I became overwhelmed with processing the routine and understanding each student individually. There were so many chances to use what I had learned- so many opportunities to give independence with my choice in language or to support children in conflict resolution by waiting to intervene- yet I fell into old habits and forgot to put into practice all I had learned. It seemed like I was able to remember a new approach only after the opportunity occurred. However, this reflection provided an amazing breakthrough in my thinking when I realized the link between the Tumbleweed methods and the practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

This change in thinking allowed me to approach my work at Tumbleweed in a slightly different way. I focused on respecting each child and accepting them for where they are right now, in the very moment I was interacting with them. I was able to pause and consider the following: Where is this child coming from? What is it they are working on in this moment? How can my reaction support their development of the authentic self? This might look like understanding that a child's need to hit comes from frustration and redirecting them to hit the floor. It might be noticing that a child ripping books is genuinely interested in the feel and texture that comes from ripping and providing them with paper or newspaper to rip instead. By pausing, I reflected on the child's need and how I could meet that in safe and appropriate way.
The language used in preschool has always interested me. From day one words are modeled in the classroom to give students tools that are available any time. Teachers establish a framework for students to be empowered and have intent. I saw the job of a preschool teacher to be a consistent calm user of preschool lingo.  It wasn't until I came to TPH that I discovered that communicating with calm words was not enough because this was just borrowing what I have seen from others and not authentic. In order to really create this school environment I had to be exactly what I wanted to teach. For example in order to teach gentle I would have to be gentle and show it with each interaction. This mentality exactly feeds into the philosophy of nonviolent communication.

NVC has often been appropriated by different movements and therefore has taken on many meanings. In the context of our early childhood setting the definition I will use is, NVC is the intention to create connections with other people and oneself that allows compassionate giving to take place. By approaching any exchange or conflict with a respectful and emphatic attention we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. It is in our nature to enjoy giving to one another.

I saw this most clearly when one day at the preschool house when the kids were out playing in the backyard. I saw Q and J playing with a jump rope. All students had been discovering new ways to move it and suddenly Q grabbed the end of J's jump rope wanted to play. J was not interested in playing with Q and began pulling which started a tugging match. I could see that J was getting more and more irritated but waited. As they both got closer and louder I ran in and focused on J being upset by Q using the rope. I asked Q if he heard that J did not want to play and see if he could ask before he pulled on a jump rope someone else was using. Later in the day I could not shake the feeling that I could have handled the situation differently. There are always teachable moments in the most difficult of times. I was not calm and did not understand where Q could have been coming from. Q could have been happy to play tug and I could have used that to teach J that no one is right or wrong, there is only difference. As a teacher students are always testing us when we are busy, embarrassed, shocked or just have our guard down in any way. It might seem like they are doing it to make our jobs harder but this is how children learn. The way we handle these moments give students examples of how to respond to adversity, challenges and problems they will have for the rest of their lives.

Being a nonviolent communicator requires a commitment to live it and use the method to handle interactions inside and outside of school. Every action in the preschool environment whether we know it or not carries importance and shows that teachers are role models supporting children with all that we do.

"NVC is about empowering students to realize their potential with others, not against others; nourishing ways of being that sustain caring, democratic learning communities and generate capacities to change the world."

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