One day last February we learned that a new boy would be joining our grade one class. In an effort to be proactive, my teaching partner, Darlene, planned a class meeting the day before he arrived. She wanted to encourage the students to welcome the new child and she also hoped to avoid a situation with which we’ve had some difficulty in the past.
In previous years when we’ve had a new addition to our class, we’ve sometimes experienced the following problem: If the new youngster starts to feel anxious and begins to cling to Mom when it’s time for her to leave, we’ve been surprised to see that there have always been one or two other kids in the class who start crying and clinging to their moms too! I guess it’s a sympathetic reaction; they must pick up on the new child’s anxiety and it makes them feel nervous or scared too. Whatever the reason, it’s been a rather negative experience for all––just at a time when one would hope to create a positive atmosphere of welcome.
She started the meeting by explaining that a new boy would be joining our class. She asked the kids to imagine what it might feel like to be in his shoes. Had they ever experienced something similar––a time when they were new to a group?
Then she brought out our DWS Hierarchy chart. “How might various people, operating at different levels of the Hierarchy, handle this out-of-the-ordinary situation?” she inquired. She guided the discussion with questions and together they arrived at the following descriptors for behavior at each of the four levels:
- being mean to the new child, perhaps teasing etc.
- not looking very pleasantly at the child
- ignoring the child altogether
- imitating clingy behaviour which upsets everyone in the class
- being polite to the child in class (when adults are present,) but essentially ignoring the child on the playground
- going out of your way to say hello
- telling the new person your name
- smiling at the new person
- inviting the newcomer to join in at lunch and recess
- offering help when the new child seems confused about routines etc.
- understanding that the new child may feel sad to be left in a new classroom––but not imitating that behavior
- offering friendship to the newcomer
At the end of the meeting she asked the children to keep this discussion in mind and to think about which level they wanted to operate on the following day when the new boy arrived.
The results of this meeting were great! Not only did we avoid a problem we had encountered several times before, but we noticed that kids were shyly taking the initiative to say hello and introduce themselves in the cloakroom––even before the new student had been officially introduced. We’ve never seen that happen before!