by Lynnā Frymoyer MA, ECE, Coordinator of the Gunnison Hinsdale Pyramid Model Project
“Keep score,” her coach said as she walked out the door. Those directions were followed by an eye roll or two. “This is never going to work,” thought a natural teacher with over 15 years of experience, “but I’ll try… just to prove her wrong!”
The next morning was game day, time to keep score. Teacher versus two-year olds. The plan for the day was the same as most days at Tenderfoot Child & Family Development Center in Gunnison: circle time, snack, work, outside play, lunch, and then every toddler teacher’s favorite… naptime! But the strategy was different this day. The teacher, Holly, was challenged by her coach to provide five times as many positive statements as negative with every interaction with her class. The kicker is that “negative statements” include questions and directions! Holly didn’t believe this 5:1 change in her words was going to have overwhelmingly positive changes in her classroom, but as a professional development experiment she was willing to try. After all, how can preschool teachers teach without questions and directions?
Holly started the day with the intention of proving her coach’s research-based strategy wrong with her own personal research in her classroom. But in the spirit of the game she consciously chose each of her interactions with the children, kept track of her positive statements, and carefully saved the negatives for the most unsafe behaviors. She stumbled over her words as she rephrased her usual sayings. “You need to sit on your chair,” her mantra for wiggle worms at snack time, became: “Look at you sitting with your pockets on the seat of your chair!” The hours and activities passed, and the atmosphere of the classroom lightened. Holly found herself smiling more. Children were more engaged and responsive. The assistant teachers in the classroom mimicked her words. Transitions that were once likened to ‘wrangling a herd of kittens,’ became smooth and successful. “Darn-it,” thought Holly with an eye roll, “my coach was right, this 5:1 does work!”
With that one day experiment in a classroom in the remote Western Slope of Colorado, a teacher’s practice was changed, and so was the early childhood experience of 12 present toddlers and countless toddlers of the future. Supporting the social-emotional development of young children through teacher education, mentorship, and collaboration is the work of the Early Childhood Development Collaborative (ECDC) of the San Juan Region. This collaborative is changing the game in early childhood education.