Big breakfast decisions

I went school this morning. It’s Day 2 of my doctoral residency and the first day of student presentations which led to interesting questions about time. How much time do we have? Who will decide when we are done? What if we go over time?

Let’s get going, so much to do! Go, go, go.

Then I got a text from my daughter:

I responded.

And back and forth it went. And then she called and I left the classroom to talk to her. She was upset, distressed, clearly in no shape to do the things that she needed to do today. So we went through it. One step at a time. Can you walk to the kitchen? Can you open the cupboard? What do you see? Can you take out an apple sauce? How are you doing now? Tell me when you’re done eating? What do you think you need to do next? It’s ok not to know, what if you get dressed next? Do you want to start with your shirt or your pants? Ok, that sounds like a good idea. Let me know when you are done and we’ll figure out what is next. How are you doing? Do you think you can see if your brother is ready to go… Twenty-seven minutes later, she had successfully managed to eat and get dressed and filled her water bottle and got to the front door. I walked her though each step. Offering choice, suggesting ideas, structuring for her the task of “getting ready to go” which had clearly been too big for her this morning into, what seemed like a thousand, tiny steps that were her-sized.

Sometimes the steps I offered were still too big and she let me know through the panic that rose in her voice. Most days, she knows how to do these things, but not today. I think about what she might learn from having these things broken down, being guided but not told, especially as I was on the phone a thousand kilometres away not able to help in person or do it for her. I think maybe one day, she will when overwhelmed, be able to break big, scary things into littler things on her own. Not today, probably not this week, but some day because of what we walked through today. And maybe when the problem is bigger. Maybe.

I thought about the time it took. And the patience to slowly walk her through each choice and they way not being there forced me to stay in the role of the guide. I returned to class and the rush, rush, rush of one presentation running out of time with still more to be done, more to be covered, activities undone.

And then I started thinking.

So maybe we are so often in a rush to teach soooo much that there very little time left for our “students” to actually learn anything. This rings true to conversations in my workplace at least. How then do we strip away, peel away the layers on all of what “needs to be covered” to make the space for learning the things our kids need to know? What happens if we don’t?

In the afternoon, the idea of offering freedom to students came up, the presumption that by offering these choices that our kids are equipped with the skills to take them up. This was juxtaposed with the use of teaching frames and structured learning. I found myself again thinking about the morning breakfast, and I thought about the ideas of using structures to help people break down other bigger structures and the hows and the whys and how taking the time to do these things can be an act of care.

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