small moves

I’ve always believed it is the small moves a teacher makes that most powerfully impact children’s learning—the silence after asking a question, the hearing of a slight turn of phrase in what a child says, the “hmm hmm, tell me more,” the noticing of how a child looks at another child, or the perfectly placed open-ended question in the midst of children’s play. Every little bit of what a teacher notices and what a teacher says (or doesn’t say) adds up. Every small move matters.

Last Friday when I was visiting a group of Kindergarteners to watch another episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I witnessed a small move from a teacher that has stayed with me. My mind continues to play this moment again and again to savor, and learn from, its significance.

We all gathered to watch episode 1656 in the theme of “Up & Down” and then teachers played a record of the song “It’s You I Like” on an old record player so children could hear the song from the episode again. (By the way, I could write a whole post on the beauty of the moment of one teacher teaching the other how to use a record player!) After listening to the song again, children said good bye to each other and returned to their respective classrooms. I stayed in the classroom where the classes meet to watch the weekly episode.

As the teacher was pushing in chairs that were used from the children who just left, she calmly asked, “Who remembers what Mister Rogers and Mr. McFeely rode that goes up and down?” Some children said “escalator” and others said “elevator.” (They rode on both.) Some children were talking about riding on them and the teacher noticed one boy who said he hadn’t been on an elevator. The teacher said, “Oh, you haven’t been on an elevator? Let’s go.” And in less than 30 seconds, everyone was in a line walking down the hallway to the school elevator, following their teacher holding an elevator key.

-Melissa A. Butler

[For a recent piece I wrote about this school and its efforts to share Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with its students, check out the Fred Rogers Center blog:]

melissa butler