The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who
is him/herself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while
being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process
in which all grow.
The beginning of the school year presents an opportunity to get a fresh start with rules and routines in family life while children are learning expected behaviors at school. Excitement and energy for the year to come may be at an all-time high. Your child may be “playing school” at home trying out his or her best teacher performances. Use this opportunity to engage your child as a teacher of behaviors you want her to practice.
First, identify a behavior you know your child is still learning to master. Is he working on being less impulsive? Does she get frustrated quickly when trying to do a project? Your son, for example, might have trouble listening when another is talking. Engage him in playing the role of a teacher for fun, connection and with the goal of helping him learn a bit about listening.
Grab a stuffed friend such as, my son E’s Betsy bear to be the student and/or you could take the student role. Let him know that in order for Betsy to be successful in school, she needs to be able to learn to listen well to the teacher, and also to other students who are talking. If you have the chance, dress up your son or daughter to look like a teacher. If you are so inspired, dress up the bear too to look like a student. The more fun and engaged in pretend play you are, the more dramatic and memorable the lesson.
Interactive Modeling by Margaret Berry Wilson, an excellent book for teachers, lays out seven very simple steps for modeling positive behaviors. Modeling can be one of the most powerful teaching tools parents can utilize particularly if you are involving your child throughout the modeling process. I have slightly augmented these to fit with a parent’s pretend play at home with their children but the essence remains. You can tell your child, “I’ll start the lesson and then you teach your bear.”
- Tell your child what you will model and why.
In your most dramatic teacher voice, say, “Today, we will learn about how to listen well. I’m going to show you how I listen well. Watch me and see what you notice.”
- Model the behavior.
Ask your son to tell you about his favorite toy or character. Model each aspect of listening well including leaning in, uncrossing arms, setting hands on your lap or at your side and using direct eye contact and an interested expression while he’s talking.
- Ask your son or daughter what he/she noticed.
“What did you notice I did?” Ask both your son and his bear to ensure that you are keeping up the pretend play.
- Ask your child to model the behavior for his student.
“Now, it’s your turn to be the teacher. You can show Betsy bear how it looks to listen well. What can you tell her about what she needs to do to listen well? What should Betsy talk to you about so you can show her good listening skills?”
- Have “student” offer what you/she noticed.
Discuss what you noticed he did well. Give the bear a chance to tell what she noticed too. “I noticed E made direct eye contact with Betsy. He leaned in to her and was quiet and interested.”
- Give all a chance to practice.
Now let the bear through you tell a story to your son and allow him to listen again. Then, switch roles and let him listen to the bear. You can include yourself in the listening and talking practice as well.
- Provide feedback.
Reinforce the learning by going over all of the positive steps you noticed your son or the bear (you!) took to demonstrate good listening skills. Be sure and point out all of the nonverbal cues you see.
Imagine trying to teach good listening skills to your child by either telling him about it or by nagging him each time he is not listening. Though these strategies are much more common and take less time and forethought, they are far less effective.
This new beginning, the start of school, can be a renewal for family life too if you are intentional about it. Seize the opportunity. Once the “lesson” has taken place, it’s easier to point to the lesson when you see your child is going down a challenging path. “Remember when we taught Betsy about listening skills. What did you teach her? Do you remember how it looks to listen well? Show me.” These reminders throughout the year can be quick and offer opportunities for ongoing practice. When your child does show you his best listening skills (or another skill on which you’ve worked), be sure you notice and point it out. “I notice that you were leaning in while I was talking and making direct eye contact. You remembered exactly what it takes to be a good listener.” Those small and specific reinforcements will offer valuable coaching feedback to your child. You are giving them positive attention and pointing out the ways they are listening well so that they can replicate those actions again. This cycle of modeling, coaching, practicing and a creating a supportive environment through reinforcement will help children internalize the skill so that they will become better listeners not only when you and Betsy bear are watching, but at school and in the community when they are on their own.