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Chapter 5, Enabling Your Staff to Act

Culture and Teachers’ Expectations (pp. 40–41)

One of your most important tasks is to help your teachers become culturally competent. Because challenging behavior often arises when there’s a disconnect between school and family cultures, it is vital for teachers to know that “normality is culturally defined,” as the anthropologist Ruth Benedict (1934) tells us.

White European Americans live in a place where people like themselves have long been the dominant culture, so White teachers are often not aware that they are cultural beings who expect others to believe, value, think, and act as they do. For these teachers, culture is unconscious—it is the environment they swim in but cannot see. But in fact, a person’s culture is a product of her upbringing and surroundings, and as the United States becomes more and more diverse, whether or not someone looks like you, she is likely to have entirely different values and beliefs.

This is critical because as they grow, all children learn the skills they need to become competent adults in their own culture, and they come to early childhood programs molded by their own culture’s customs, childrearing practices, belief systems, and ways of communicating and learning. That is, children’s behavior reflects the expectations of their culture and family.

This is equally true of teachers, who also bring the values and expectations of their own upbringing and family culture into the classroom. Their cultural background impacts everything they do, including how they set up the classroom, their sense of aesthetics, their routines and schedules, and the content of their activities. Above all, it influences how they relate to the children as well as their expectations of children’s behavior—and when what is appropriate in the child’s culture is inappropriate in the teacher’s culture, a culture clash can ensue.

Chapter 7, Why Change Is So Difficult and How to Navigate It

Why Do Educators Resist Change? (p. 68)

Some teachers will be on board immediately and feel excited at the prospect of expressing their concerns about teaching style, discipline practices, the daily schedule, physical layout, and curriculum. But you should also be prepared for grumbling and disagreements. Regardless of how small or necessary the change seems to you, some educators and staff will experience a sense of inner turmoil at the thought of it. Your job is not only to guide and ensure the implementation of the change but also to support all your teachers and help them understand and feel more comfortable about the need for it and what it will mean to them. Bear in mind that those educators who don’t believe change is necessary and don’t see any reason to let go of their previous practices and beliefs probably won’t maintain any changes that they seem to accept initially. Your responsibilities include understanding why some educators are resisting. What are their assumptions, fears, and worries?

Most of us prefer the known to the unknown, and teachers are no exception. They have worked hard to become who they are, and they feel comfortable and invested in the current state of things. Some will say that they don’t see the need for change, especially for a major overhaul, but it’s likely that they’re frightened by the idea that they’ll have to give up tools and practices they’ve relied on, perhaps for years, and replace them with something new. They don’t want to unlearn the old ways, and they’re offended by the implication that the old ways were wrong or bad, even if they know deep down that they don’t really work. The old techniques may stop a child’s challenging behavior in the moment, but they don’t really teach her the skills she needs in order to behave in ways that more appropriately get her needs met.

At the same time, teachers facing change may fear that they’ll fail—that they won’t have the skills or understanding to cope with the new ways, such as eliminating the impulse to say “no,” “don’t,” and “stop” and telling children what to do instead—leading them to question their own abilities and diminishing their self-worth. They may feel bereft on some level, grieving for the old ways and for their own competence, relevance, and self-esteem, which they’re afraid they’ll also lose. Change will be especially hard for anyone on your staff who’s experienced trauma (Bruno 2012).

Chapter 13, Trauma and Behavior

Develop a New Attitude (p. 128)

In order to create a warm, caring relationship with a child whose behavior is often challenging and unpredictable, teachers may have to make a paradigm shift. Instead of seeing a disobedient, defiant, and angry child who they feel needs to be disciplined, they must reframe their approach to see a scared, anxious child who needs respect, kindness, and compassion and whose development may be far behind her chronological age (Sorrels 2015). With this fresh perspective, her teachers will be able to stop judging her and instead respond to her and her behavior with empathy and flexibility and even strive to make their connection stronger. Rather than asking themselves “What’s wrong with this child?” they must start asking “What’s happened to this child?” Even if they never know the answer, this attitude can make a big difference.

From the teacher’s perspective, a situation may not seem at all threatening, so it’s important to remind her that it’s the child’s view that counts, not the teacher’s, and her unconditional positive regard is a vital ingredient in the child’s ability to recover from the unspeakable (Wolpow et al. 2009). Even when Emmy is out of control, a teacher can help her learn new ways of being by showing that she cares and making it clear that Emmy cannot change the fact that she cares (Platt 2019; Watson with Ecken 2003). As Sorrels writes, “A fundamental principle to remember in dealing with children from hard places is that we need to bring them close rather than push them away when they display inappropriate behavior. The underlying message we want them to hear is that we will love them through their unlovely behavior” (2015, 132).

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