Burnham Elementary School has this atmosphere about it, and I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on what it is. It may be the way the teachers all genuinely care for the well being of their students. Maybe it’s the way the students all look out for each other. Whatever it is or where it stems from, I believe the best phrase for it is “nurturing.”
Warm and loving, the school very well mimics a warm cup of apple cider on a crisp, autumn afternoon. The students are encouraged to adventure and discover things for themselves. Their teachers cautiously wait on the sideline, call the plays, but it’s ultimately up to the students if they want to run the play that was called. It creates an environment of curiosity, respect, and teamwork.
So often you see adults criticizing children when they make a mistake. Half the part of growing up is making mistakes and learning from them. Children, by nature, are imperfect. They will be clumsy. They will mess up. But it is our job, as adults, to help them see the reason their attempt didn’t go as planned. Not to point out, “That was wrong! Don’t do it that way!” But a gentler, “You know, I don’t think that worked out the way you thought it would. Maybe you can try it this way next time…”
I observed from afar the most wonderful example of this during my recess duty today. A group of students play “Wall Ball” where the side of the school building meets the blacktop. This wall, by chance, happens to be on the same face of the building that the door (which is propped open for the duration of recess so students may go in to the nurse/bathroom/etc.) is located. One child clearly wasn’t having the best day with his aim today, and threw the ball right through the open door, which then rolled down the hallway into the main office.
Moments later, the principal showed up at the door holding the tennis ball. While I could only read her lips, she seemed to ask something like, “Who’s ball is this?” A student came forward and said it was his. Still holding the ball, (and again, reading her body language and lips) she suggested that he may want to work on keeping the ball on the wall and not tumbling down the hallway into her office. They exchanged a smile and a little giggle, she placed the ball back into his hand, and they both went on their way.
The entire thing took place over a maximum of a minute, but it had such a profound impact on me. There were so many other, less constructive, ways to handle the situation. The principal addressed what happened, but did not criticize the student for their accident. Nothing was done maliciously, so there was no reason to act like it had. An acknowledgement, quick suggestion to correct it, and move on.
It’s such a healthy, productive, and nurturing environment for a child to grow up with. If only more adults could respond this way!