Do you want to build a Tower?

Parenting a toddler is like being on a roller coaster. There’s the anxiety that comes with the climb (when a tantrum is looming or an almost slow-motion fall is about to happen). This is followed by the thrill of the ride itself (including some laughing, crying, and the occasional vomit). The ride is both fun and scary as hell. This particular ride just happens to come with many lessons along the way.

One such recent lesson came while playing with building blocks. My daughter can play with these little plastic accidents-waiting-to-happen for hours. Our simple process for playtime with blocks is this:

  • In an homage to her favorite Disney Princess, Anna, I emphatically sing my adaptation of “Do you want to build a snowman?” called “Do you want to build a tower?”
  • She proceeds to dump the blocks out in one, big, messy pile.
  • Daddy is responsible for building the base, as evidenced by the screaming of “DADDA” until the base is constructed.
  • Daughter stacks as many blocks as her little self can physically manage.
  • Like a baby version of Godzilla, she knocks them down when it is no longer possible to go higher.
  • She proceeds to laugh maniacally like a cartoon villain.
  • Repeat (about 20 times).

blocks

As an educator without an off-switch, I can’t help but want to help her. I try to build a base around her stack of blocks. I take blocks from the pile and suggest an order. She, of course as a budding independent toddler also lacking an off-switch, wants nothing to do with any of daddy’s suggestions. Sometimes, I have to tilt the stack, so she can stretch and reach one more. When she’s done, we usually celebrate. When she knocks them over, I want to be frustrated. I wonder how such excitement can come from destroying something you have worked hard at forever (or in toddler terms – 3 minutes). However, my daughter meets the knocking or falling down of her colored blocks with an enthusiastic scream and cackle. I can’t help but, eventually, join her in that laughter.

This whole process and subsequent reflection has taught me something about my work with students. How often do I try to dictate how they build their tower? How often do I get frustrated for them, when they are OK with the result? Maybe my role is simply to build and hold that base, let them build, cheer emphatically, and support them when they want to tear it all down and start over. Many people in helping professions, education specifically, often get too fixated on the end result (passing the test, getting the job, walking across the stage with diploma proudly in hand) and less on the process and the learning that comes from it. Either way, a tower is getting built. Let’s allow students the freedom to choose their blocks and their structure, instead of us carefully handing them the blocks one by one and prescribing to them what comes next. This way, they get the tower that they want – and all the laughter and learning that comes with it.

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Simple phrases that have a profound impact

Great leaders know how to say the right things, and when to say them.  When you are in a position of leadership, what you say matters. However, it is often the simplest of phrases that matter the most. Below is a list of things that great leaders say often and mean it. These can be especially powerful with students.

“Thank you.”

“I made a mistake” or “You’re right.”

“I believe in (or am confident in) you/your abilities/decision-making.”

“I know you can.”

“Great job!”

“I am proud of you.”

“I think you are ready to take on [project].”

“I support your decision.”

“What do you think?”

“Give it a shot!”

“What if?”

“I understand.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I don’t know, but let’s find out.”

“I trust you.”

“Be creative!”

“How can I help?”

“Can you give me some feedback on…?”

What would you add to this list?