Like children in Piaget’s model for developing schemas, we process our experiences mindfully by recreating them within ourselves. Each of the four stages of Kolb’s cycle for experiential learning provide a basis for reflections and observations, which, once assimilated into abstract concepts with implications for action, enable actively present participation in the creation of new experiences.
The first stage in Kolb’s cycle is that of the concrete experience, in which the person in question has an experience. The next stage, reflective observation, is born of the first, and through the reviewing or reflecting process within this stage we arrive at conclusions. This third stage is called abstract conceptualisation – in which we draw our conclusions about the experience in question and learn from it. This sets the foundation for Kolb’s fourth stage, active experimentation, in which we make plans based on what we have learned, and try them out.
I often find myself encouraging my daughter to be grateful. When things don’t go her way, I remind her that she is not without a gift – the experience has offered her a lesson. Both our personal and professional experiences of life are composed of occurrences which one encounters and interacts with; this process is at the grid for one’s ongoingly complex relationship with reality.
Engaging in this process with focus affords us a greater degree of agency within this adventure. It’s from the intentional cultivation of conclusions that one sculpts future experiences.
Working with children requires an immense amount of patience and discipline, as well as an acute sense of one’s own personal trajectory when it comes to communication. Once we identify a personal trajectory of nonviolence – compassion, care, patience, discipline – we have a framework of reference with which to scaffold our responses to situations we interact with.
Like any complex tool, this framework needs to be in a continuous process of examination and fine tuning. It is so easy to sleepwalk into poor choices and bad habits, especially in a job which continuously demands such a high degree of emotional involvement.
I have personally been a devotee of nonviolence for over a decade, and it is now very much counter to my learned behaviour to retaliate acts of aggression. Through frequent checking to ensure I am in line with my own personal trajectory of nonviolent communication, I avoid succumbing to my emotions and reacting in ways which impose my emotions on those around me. In this way I endeavour to maintain a calming and nurturing influence.
Sometimes, acts which challenge our composure are not direct affronts to our own selves, and these can often be the easiest ones to overreact to, as we have the justification of righteous defense.
I experienced two such incidents during my second month of work experience – first as a voyeur, and in the second situation I was directly involved.
The first time, I noticed TC1 and TC2 have an altercation. If memory serves correctly, TC2 had swiped the small model sheep TC1 had been waddling around with. Sheepless and outraged, TC1 sounded a bite sized war cry and attacked her friend, raining down a battery of slaps like tiny butterflies upon his side.
I was surprised to witness another practitioner in the room (not my mentor) reach out, grab her arm, and say in a raised voice, “No! That’s bad! Bad!” TC1’s eyes filled with tears, but she mutely went over to a corner of the room and began looking at books.
Obviously, such a response jeopardizes the practitioner’s bond with the child, while enforcing the notion that TC1 is worthy of kind treatment only when her behaviour complies with the wishes of others. Such a message is counter to a child’s development as an independent and self-assured person.
Upon further reflection, I considered the long hours the practitioner in question has to work, and how the setting can not afford to furnish her with the daily hours she needs to take time off and reflect (instead she, and most creche workers I have spoken to, find themselves trying to cram periods of reflection in while the children eat their snacks or nap). I arrived at the conclusion that such an outburst was a nearly inevitable consequence of the culmination of fatigue and frustration.
I further concluded that, should the technical measures put in place to facilitate practitioners’ professional and personal reflection not be upheld, the frustration and burn-out which consequently accrues will almost certainly undermine practitioner’s peace of mind, resulting in a decline of performance.
It would make sense for ECCE practitioners’ reflecting time to be prioritised going forward. I planned to get a copy of the creche’s behavioural code, which I have since done. However, the futility of raising this issue does not escape me – without adequate funding and/or resource access, corners will inevitably be cut, to the detriment of the quality of care we can provide.
The second time I experienced a similar incident, I was more directly involved.
I was sitting nearby two small children in the toddler room as they ate their snack. TC1 began to punch TC2 as hard as she could on the shoulder, repeatedly, while TC2 looked increasingly distressed, without saying anything.
TC2 is actually the daughter of a friend of mine, and I spend plenty of time with her on the weekends when her older sister and my daughter get together for playdates. Despite this endearing factor, as well as the simple fact that here was a child in distress, getting mistreated, I felt no animosity towards her small aggressor.
I put my arm gently around TC2, and began to stroke her arm. As she leaned into me, I reached out and began to stroke TC1’s arm in a similar fashion. The whole way through I was crooning, “No, nice TC2, we need to be gentle with our friends.” As I stroked TC1’s arm, I told her gently, “Nice TC1, we have to be gentle with you, too, you’re a good girl.”
Upon further reflection, I considered how my choice to sooth TC1 was rooted in both
- a fundamental trust of her will to be kind and get along with others, and
- an understanding that children only act out aggressively when they are tense and in need of reassurance.
I marvelled at how quickly the atmosphere was diffused into a state of calm, and concluded that showcasing my trust for her, letting her know that I saw her need for comforting, was exactly what was needed to reassure her.
Because the atmosphere in the setting was so greatly uplifted after that interaction, with TC1 and TC2 both hugging and giggling with each other for the remainder of the morning, I plan to suggest to my mentor that we do several team building exercises as a group. Ideas include ‘Compliment Spin the Bottle,” where every child has to say something nice about the child the bottle lands on, as well as working together to bounce balls.
We all have an idea of who we are and of the attributes we possess. As an ECCE practitioner, we may believe ourselves to be authoritative, composed and attuned to the needs of the children in our care. When an event challenges this preconception, it is common to feel the call to reject it, reacting as though we are protecting our identity.
These events can be incredibly teachable moments because, upon reflection, they point to the areas of our selves which we would rather overlook. Shedding light upon these uncomfortable truths in our nature is a pivotal part of self-awareness, as acknowledging our limitations is among the first vital steps to transcending them.