The new authority in kindergarten
This post was written in collaboration with Selah Kadosh
Whereas the new authority approach is familiar to many teachers and school principals*, the model`s implementation in kindergartens is far less known. As part of the series of posts, which deals with infancy and early childhood, we will describe how the new authority is applied in ways that strengthen kindergarten teachers and their assistants (we shall refer to both as “kindergarten teachers”), improve their collaboration with parents, and foster a positive atmosphere that increases the children’s sense of safety and belonging. The contribution of the new authority to kindergartens can be especially meaningful, as kindergarten teachers are even more isolated than school teachers, who at least can benefit from the fact that they are members of a considerable staff. One of the achievements of the new authority approach is that it increases the support experienced by educators. Kindergarten teachers often work in isolation, a condition that makes it much more difficult to cope with challenges. We view the well-being of the adults that are responsible for children as no less important than the well-being of the children themselves. As we shall see, not only the kindergarten teachers but also the parents, improve their condition, as they learn to cooperate with the kindergarten staff. Selah Kadosh has led this project for a number of years in a number of maternal schools.
As we want to do in our work with parents, we begin by focusing on how kindergarten teachers can improve their self-control, thereby avoiding unnecessary conflicts and reducing the wear and tear that is responsible for the high burnout rate of all teaching professions. Learning to implement “mantras” such as “Strike the iron when it is... cold!” or “You don’t have to win, but only to persist!” allows kindergarten teachers to give themselves a break, calm themselves and renew their forces, as well as developing middle- and long-term interventions. Delaying their disciplinary response does not prevent them from attending to the children’s security on the spot. For instance, they will not delay their response when they have to separate two fighting children's, or take aside a child with a temper-tantrum. However, knowing that they can take care of the disciplinary aspect later on and thereby manifest their authority, allows them to exercise more self-control and feel a sense of competence, where in the past they might have felt helpless. Kindergarten teachers learn to say to a child that misbehaves: “We don’t accept this kind of behavior in the kindergarten! I’ll talk to you about it later!” One may wonder, how meaningful this can be for a 4 or 5 year old child. It becomes meaningful, however, when after a while the kindergarten teacher keeps her word, showing the child that she remembers. In effect, she comes back to the issue in ways that grow more and more pregnant to the child’s mind.
In order to talk to the child later on about the problematic incident, the kindergarten teacher takes him or her aside, for instance, when the other kids are playing in the courtyard under the other teacher’s supervision. She then tells the child: “I want to talk to you about what happened when you pushed Sarah to the ground.” If the child doesn’t remember, the teacher reminds them: “You wanted to play with the merry-go-round, but she didn’t go down, so you pushed her hard and she hit the ground with her head.” This is a meaningful moment for this boy, because he sees that what he did was not wiped out, but the teacher kept it in her mind, and the boy now had to deal with what he did. This creates continuity in the child’s mind, whereas for many children, particularly with the more restless and impulsive ones, life may be a chaotic succession of disconnected events. If the teacher feels that the boy is attentive, she may ask him if he is willing to apologize to the girl and make amends for what he did to her. She offers to help him out, so that he may get a good feeling from his action. For instance, she may ask him: “Do you want that we think together of a nice way of saying that you’re sorry?” or “Do you want me to help you draw a picture that you may give her when you apologize?” Such a delayed response, which may happen one or two hours after the event, will almost invariably be more significant than an immediate reaction, in which the kindergarten teacher orders the child to apologize right away. The reason is that at the moment of the aggression, the child is in a state of high psychophysiological arousal, which limits his capacity to listen and understand, to say nothing of making amends in a sincere way. A child who apologizes in such a state, usually does it under a sense of compulsion. The situation changes, however, if the teacher talks to him later and offers him help with the apology and the amends.
The significance of the self-control skills we offer to teachers and parents deepens, as they understand the large scope of reaction possibilities at their disposal. For instance, the kindergarten teacher may involve her assistant and also other members of the day center, as well as the parents. Moreover, the teacher may lengthen the time span of the intervention, by pursuing the process also the next day. This effort is justified in cases where a child displays particularly difficult behaviors. In those cases the reaction should involve a larger number of persons and be continued over a few days. This strengthens the teacher’s authority, while giving the child an experience of consistency and continuity.
The procedure becomes gradually familiar to all the children in the kindergarten, as they experience not only an individual reaction of the kind, but a series of measures that are implemented by the whole staff. A particularly important event is the announcement. This is a formal event in which all members of the staff announce to the children their joint decision regarding a couple of crucial rules. The formality of the announcement aims as making it function as a transition rite. Each child gets a written copy of the announcement with a graphic illustration of the rules. The announcement was one of the central themes of the first meeting with all the parents of the kindergarten, in which they were presented with the principles of the new authority and informed about the present project. The parent who had come to pick the child home on the day of the announcement received a copy, together with an invitation to the parents’ meeting.
Here is a typical announcement:
In our kindergarten:
We show respect for one another at all times and all activities in the playground.
We don’t accept violence of any kind! We don’t hurt our pals, with words or acts! We take care of the toys. When we pass our toys to another kid we do it gently, we don’t throw it to them!
With this announcement the basis is laid for a series of possible measures, such as: manifestation of decided presence by the teacher, extending the manifestation of presence to other members of the staff and to the parents, a systematic procedure for making amends, and reinforcing messages to a child who made amends. In this process the standing of the kindergarten teachers’ and the experience of the children undergo a progressive transformation. In our next post we’ll present a case illustrating both sides of the medal (the teachers’ and the children’s) and showing how the new authority engenders a sense of anchoring that gains depth with each new step.
* Our book for teachers has appeared in German (Haim Omer and Regina Haller, 2019: Raus aus der Ohnmacht: Das Konzept neue Autorität für die schulische Praxis), in Dutch )Omer, Haim, 2019, Nieuwe Autoriteit: Verbindend Gezag voor het onderwijs. Pelckmans Pro.(, in Swedish (Omer, H. 2020~Modiga lärare – Från ifrågasatta till Oumbärliga. Link: https://www.yourvismawebsite.com/verti-ab) and in Hebrew. It is as yet unavailable in English.