Supporting the Individual and the Group
Story for Active Reflection
Think of one time in your own childhood
that was an emotionally difficult time for you in which the adults in your
life were unable to or did not support you in a way that you perceived to be
supportive. What would emotional
support have looked like for you if you’d received it?
Create list of key words in your journal. If you're willing, share them on the discussion support site.
The following story took place in our kindergarten classroom several
years ago. Caroline and Kimie were the teachers, and this story is told from
Caroline’s point of view as a reflection of their experience.
One Wednesday night as we were coming back
into the classroom from outside play, Ericka noticed that a classmates' family
photo had been drawn over with marker.
She yelled out, "Look at what Mac did to Paul’s picture!" Lots of children began coming over and
crowding around Ericka and the photo with marker on it. I heard and saw this happening and went
How would you finish this sentence? What would you go over ready to do
or say? What would you be feeling? What physical stance would you carry?
…to learn more. I should add here that Mac was not at school that day so he
could not speak for himself. I
asked Ericka, “How did you know that this had been done by Mac?” She said she didn't know for sure, she
just thought it must be him.
When I asked her why she thought it must be
him, she didn't really know. I
asked her, “Did you see Mac make the marks or had Mac told you he'd done
this?” She said "no" to
both parts of the question.
What do you think is happening for Ericka as Caroline
asks these questions? Is she accusing or shaming? Is she mindful of supporting
Ericka to stay in an open state of mind so she can think and help solve the
Next Caroline interprets the situation in a way that
makes the big picture very visible to Ericka in a matter of fact, calm, not
So I let Ericka know that it sounded like
she was making an assumption and blaming Mac for something he perhaps didn't do
and he wasn't here to let us know otherwise. Mac often was targeted
in this way by his classmates.
He was still developing language and was not readily able to express
I saw this as an opportunity for children
to see Mac in a different light.
I asked Ericka how Mac might feel to know
that not only she, but now, his other classmates thought he had done something
to Paul's family photo because she had yelled out that it had been Mac. She thought it might make him feel sad. I told her it might or that he might
even feel angry. I then pointed
out that when we make assumptions and blame one another, it really hurts our
community and it doesn't help to create a strong, caring community.
Next Caroline invites Ericka into the problem solving process
I then asked her how she would fix this
with Mac and the community. She
wasn't sure. I asked her to think
about it and that I had a suggestion if she didn't have any ideas.
What might some of your suggestions have been?
It would be important to mention that while
Ericka had been off trying to think of how to make this right with Mac and the
community, I had filled Kimie in briefly on what was going on and asked her how
flexible our schedule could be, should Ericka want to call a class
meeting. It’s really important for
the adults to agree on why and how this happens and how to negotiate our
schedule to allow for when opportunities like this come up.
Knowing that issues like these are central to supporting
and creating learning communities, they receive priority in planning.
After a while I checked in with Ericka to
see if she had come up with an idea, which she hadn’t. She asked me for my suggestion. I
explained that this was an opportunity
for her to share her experience of learning why it is so important to ask
questions and not make assumptions or blame people, while setting the community
straight on that we don't know who marked on the photo. I asked her if she
would be willing to talk with the class about what had happened. She nodded her head as if she’d already
decided that this was something she MUST do. Then she looked up at me and asked softly, "Will you
help me?" I looked at Ericka
so serious and resolute and replied reassuringly, "I will be right there
at your side."
It is clear to everyone that this is not about punishment and blame but
about an opportunity to create new understanding and empathy.
I want to insert here that I wouldn’t
necessarily make this suggestion for every child, but I knew Ericka and how
emotionally strong she was, and I trusted that she would be able to do
this. I also knew that the
children had been hard at work in creating a caring community and had seen
their capacity for understanding what it means to support a member of their
I pointed out that this
conversation would feel hard and asked if she felt brave enough to do
this. She said she thought she
could do it, but maybe she would prefer to do it in the morning. I said "O.K." Kimie, my co-teacher, overheard this
last part and knew that Ericka would be going home soon so she asked Ericka if
she wouldn't prefer to talk with everyone today so that Ericka wouldn't worry
about it all afternoon and evening until morning. Again Ericka asked, “Will you help me?” To which Kimie also said she would.
The teachers are accepting but also offering expertise and comfort,
empathy for both sides, and modeling compassion.
After lunch we gathered the class together
in a circle. I started by saying
that Ericka had made an assumption about someone in our community and that she
wanted to talk about it to fix it.
I asked if everyone knew how Ericka might be feeling a little nervous or
scared and could we help her to know that it was o.k. The children rose up in support – Paul leaned over to
Ericka, gently caressed her and said, "It's o.k. we all make
mistakes." Cooper said,
"My mom made a mistake once."
Alexandra said, "Ericka, no one's perfect." Other voices joined in, “Yea
Ericka, it’s o.k.!” Harry said,
“You can say it!”
With these words of understanding from her
community and me sitting next to her with my arm around her, Ericka bravely
began her story. "Today I
made an assumption. Someone drew
on Paul's photo and I blamed Mac for it.
I don't really know who did it."
At the end of Ericka's story, I suggested
to the children that maybe on our way out of school today they could give
Ericka a hug to let her know that it took a lot of courage to realize that she
had made assumptions and that we feel so proud of her and forgive her and love
her. To this the children spontaneously
responded by immediately surrounding Ericka. It was a sea of arms and bodies all trying to give Ericka a
hug. Ericka looked like a baby
bird in a nest – she stuck her head up for air and said, "Maybe I could
call your name – one at a time?"
Take a few moments to synthesize the implications of this
experience – what is the payoff?
For Ericka? For the whole
community? For Mac?
I was so proud and amazed by Ericka's
courage and strength to speak out in this way in front of her community. I was equally proud and amazed by
everyone's loving and understanding responses to Ericka. It felt like a genuine learning and
caring community, where Ericka felt safe to open herself up in this way and the
rest of the children were so supportive of her.
I felt like we had perhaps chipped away a
layer and had the opportunity to have this shared experience to help frame
future "hard" conversations as a community. I believe that everyone came away with more understanding of
what happens when we make assumptions and don't ask questions.
I can’t really know for certain that these
observations are related, but what I saw was that the blaming of Mac stopped
after this experience. I think I
also observed that perhaps the children were more patient with Mac and that he
felt more a part of our community. This experience was hard and real for
everyone. It takes these kind of
real experiences for the children to make meaning of their social lives just as
it does for them to make meaning of their academic lives.
Before this experience, Mac lacked status
as a playmate and, because of this, was an easy target for blame. Ericka’s willingness to be brave enough
to lead the reflection on the rupture in our community allowed the children to
empathize with Mac and allowed him to gain status simply because he had
feelings. All the children took
responsibility for the breakdown, as they realized that it could have been any
one of them who might have accused Mac.
Edward said, “It’s all our fault!”
The human bond between them was recognized and the community healed
The day after this conversation, Mac
returned to school and was met with warmth and apologies tumbling from
everyone, including Ericka, who had even made him a gift at home over
night. Recognizing Mac’s right to
belong as a member of the community allowed the children to see him in a way
they never had before. They also
seemed to understand that when one of them was vulnerable to this kind of
blame, so were they all.
When the children expected Mac to be a
friend, they were able to begin listening for him. Mac’s relationships blossomed. The children were more willing to be with him and to be
patient, and Mac learned how to be a friend.