When I first taught two-year-olds,one ofthe more experienced teachers told me to
try to distract children who cried when their parents left them.“Bring them to the win-
dow to watch the birds,”she said.“If that doesn’t work, just ignore them. They’ll stop
after a few minutes.”
And then I had the privilege ofworking with Sharon.English,with long,wild hair
and a tattered Laura Ashley dress,she was a combination Pied Piper and Mary Poppins
to the fourteen kids in her care.I watched as she knelt down by a distressed child.“Oh
you poor dear,”she cooed.“You miss your mommy,don’t you?”I expected the child to
scream even louder, but instead the child began to calm down.“I sometimes miss my
mommy too,”Sharon continued.“Me too,”the child said as the sobs stopped.“I like to
look out the window when I feel sad,”Sharon said.“Come,let’s look together.”
What a lesson for me! What a lesson to the child! And what a lesson to the other
children in the class! In one briefmoment,Sharon modeled compassion,empathy,and
emotional management skills to all of us. In all of her interactions with children, she
made herselfthe child’s ally,not the child’s enemy.
I began to think ofdifferent supervisors I had worked under.Florence was a night-
mare. As soon as she would come near me, my stomach would tighten and I would
avoid all eye contact in the hope that she would pass me by. Her exchanges with me
were inevitably a list ofthings I was doing wrong and how she wanted them changed.
Now and then she would throw me a bone with a “Good job”comment,which would
roll offmy back as I would await the ax to fall.
Sienna,on the other hand,was a born motivator.She worked with each ofus as a
mentor and a colleague.She would share her observations and solicit our input as we
worked together strategizing how to make our school a better place.
I began to wonder how the children in my class saw me. Was I Florence, micro-
managing their every move and pushing them to think ofthemselves as part ofa prob-
lem? Or was I Sienna, respecting children and empowering them to be part of the
I began to imitate new techniques I observed from my gifted mentors, often with
no understanding of the theory behind the practice. All I cared about was that these
new practices worked better than the management techniques I had learned before.
Not only did my children with challenges improve,but also the atmosphere ofcommu-
nity,acceptance,and cooperation flourished for all children in the classroom.
It has been fourteen years since I put a child in time out or handed out a sticker.
Still a classroom teacher, I have also led workshops for hundreds of fellow teachers in
the theory and practice of effective and humane guidance for young children. These
generous educators have shared their own experiences and discoveries with me, and I
pass along the wisdom I have collected.
I invite you to explore the theories and practices that can turn you and your chil-
dren around.Help an unreachable,unteachable Lizbeth begin to connect with and care
about others. Model compassion and caring for children so they know that the class-