After years of writing and teaching about observing, focusing on interactions was a natural next step. Why? Observing provides information that helps us get to know a child or another adult and informs the decisions we make about what to say and do with that person.
Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Learning
Together we, Amy, Judy and Charlotte Stetson began work on Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Their Learning. Though the goal of this book was to ultimately have a positive impact on children’s wellbeing and learning, we knew our work needed to focus on the teacher because he or she is the person who makes a difference in the lives of children – and families – every day.
We saw this clearly one day during a visit to an infant/toddler room. It was quiet when we walked in. One adult was sitting on the floor looking into space (looking bored to be honest), another was changing a baby, a smile on her face but no real connection between them. One toddler walked a ramp… another dropped a red wooden cube in a coffee can.
If we’d had a thermometer that took the emotional temperature it would have read in the 50’s. No one was freezing or in danger of emotional frostbite…. but the air was heavy, no animation, no conversation.
Within 3 minutes after we walked into the room, greeted the teachers and said we wanted to learn more about their work, the emotional temperature rose to 80 starting with the teachers. As they began smiling and their voices became more energized, children too began smiling. One teacher and a toddler started making funny faces and giggling together. Another teacher and child started playing peek-a-boo. The toddler climbing up the ramp took a giant step and then slid down the ramp clapping her hands. The room came alive.
Weeks later when we shared this observation with teachers one of them commented, “You helped me remember that my work matters.” Our beginning assumption was affirmed: The teacher would be at the center of our thinking about and writing of Powerful Interactions.
As we worked – and yes, sipped wine and ate chocolate, sometimes lots of chocolate, the three steps emerged: Be Present, Connect and Extend Learning. Together these steps transform an everyday interaction into a Powerful Interaction.
Coaching with Powerful Interactions
Even before Powerful Interactions was published, many of our colleagues acknowledged that using Powerful Interactions with adults would be helpful in their work.
Friends and family pointed out that “static” interferes with quality interactions at home, not just in the work place. In conversations with others we began to explore how “extend learning” isn’t just something we do as we teach children, it can be part of what makes for the richness of collegial partnerships and friendship when trust exists between you. Learning more about Powerful Interactions among adults and how learning partnerships can lead to growth and positive change in practice inspired us to turn our attention to coaching. By this time Charlotte was enjoying retirement by the sea in Maine. We invited Shaun Johnsen, our colleague and skilled videographer, to work with us to develop Coaching with Powerful Interactions: A Guide for Partnering with Early Childhood Teachers.
Like you we have each had our successes and struggles in having meaningful interactions with colleagues even though we share the same goal of promoting learning and the well-being of young children and families. Yet these interactions are key to effectiveness and creating positive change, let alone making our professional life more enjoyable and satisfying.
To a large extent, the culture or climate of programs and organizations is defined by the interactions among the people within them. When the quality of interactions improves, human relationships grow deeper and stronger. Positive relationships are a necessary ingredient for learning and can impact the culture and climate, making them more conducive to change and growth. This effect cascades through all organizational roles and levels, ultimately reaching the central focus –children and families.
While we typically think of coaches working with teachers, we believe that when it comes to Powerful Interactions Coaching we need to expand our vision to include all of the adults who support teachers: coaches, supervisors, program directors, managers and program, school, agency and state leaders. No matter your role, your stance, or how you are, shapes how you think and act as a coach.
A Powerful Interactions coach:
- Observes for and highlights teachers' competence
- Uses observations and articulation to promote intentionality
- Values individualizing to develop trusting relationships
- Promotes a mutual learning partnership
- Supports teachers by modeling what to say and do and how
Whether you spend your day in a classroom or supporting those who do, Powerful Interactions begin with YOU. We hope you will find our books helpful in your vitally important work.