How to Be the Most Effective Preschool Teacher in the World

As presented at the NHE Seminar in Caracas, Venezuela in a two part workshop

By Mary Jane Glassman

For a number of years scientific researchers in the U.S. have been studying the effects of high quality preschool (2½ to 5 year old children) education. Some of these results are surprising. They have found that while in Kindergarten and First grade, those who have attended preschool may be ahead of others who have not received the benefit of pre-academic studies, by third grade this advantage ‘evens out’ and is not sustainable. So what is the value of quality education for young children?

These research findings indicate that adults who have experienced high quality preschool education are more likely to:

  • Complete higher levels of education,
  • Take home a bigger paycheck,
  • Be in better health,
  • Have more stable relationships,
  • And are less likely to commit a crime or be incarcerated.

What does this mean? To me it means that a high quality early childhood education provides a stronger socio-emotional foundation that can be beneficial throughout the life experience. When an adult possesses a strong social emotional balance, they are more likely to be in a position to contribute to and to be a more positive influence on the society and to be a better, more productive human being.

Early childhood education has receive global popularity for introducing young children to relationship building, nurturing the development of a greater understanding of one’s self, of other children, of other living beings, of our planet. Relationships are the very foundation of everything we do.

Positive social and emotional development occurs when students feel the teacher cares about them. This is an essential factor in yoga based neohumanist education. The relationship between student and teacher can be the key to successful living. What is the most ideal condition for children to learn?

  • When children are happy, relaxed, safe, and feel connected to others.
  • When they are excited about the information being shared.
  • When there is no fear or threatening behaviors.

The main directive of early childhood education teachers everywhere is:

To build a positive and caring relationship with every child, especially the children with the most challenging behaviors.

Neohumanist teachers are dedicated to ‘leaving no child behind’.

What are the best practices for maximizing the full potential of every child? What are the best practices for constructing a strong relationship with each child?

There are 7 keys to: Being the Most Effective Preschool Teacher in the World!!!

1) Physical Proximity/Physical Bonding

How do teachers show interest in a child?
Teachers express this initially by being physically close to the child. When speaking with the child, teachers come down to the child’s level and speak face to face, eye to eye. I want you to imagine for a minute that you are Gulliver and you are in the land where everyone is as tall as the ceiling in the room in which you are now seated. WOW! And then there is one person who always leans down and speaks with you face to face. How would that feel?

There are many other ways in the preschool that the neohumanist teacher promotes physical closeness. Think of all the mudras we frequently see and use today. High fives, knuckle bumping, patting the back, hugging, sitting in the teacher’s lap – so many avenues for showing children that you are interested in them.

So how often does the ECE (Early Childhood Education) teacher demonstrate closeness? Often. Frequently… as much as you possibly can. Teachers are committed to ‘loving up’ every child in their care. ECE teachers want to ‘fill the cup’ of every child until it is overflowing with love and caring.

Why are we doing this? To build connection. To strengthen a relationship. To show every child that they are loved. To show every child that someone cares for them. This is the desire of every human being. It is what everyone desires. It is what every child in a neohumanist classroom will feel and experience.
Note: When facilitating physical closeness in your situation, please consider societal cultural norms as well as the culture of the family. Please also remember that some children have nerve endings in their skin that make receiving certain types of sensory touching, i.e., hugs, physically unpleasant and in some cases repulsive. Carefully weighing all of these considerations is highly important when implementing physical closeness.

2) Teacher Sharing

What is the essence of the teacher-student relationship? How does the teacher reach forward and create a bond of mutual sharing? By doing things with the children, individually and collectively.

We engage in simple conversations. “Tell me about your family. What did you do with mommie yesterday? How did you sleep last night? Tell me about where you live. Do you have any pets?” Teachers take time to listen attentively to what each child has to say.

Sometimes teachers do loving things for students even when they know the kids can do it themselves. We may offer assistance…just as you would do for a friend. “Let me help you with your coat.” “Oh, your shoe is missing. I can help you look for it.” When children are struggling with something, offer to do half of the activity. “Olivia I can put this shoe on and then you can do the other.” Teachers extend courtesy, kindness, and caring just as you would your best friend.

Teachers share materials that will help extend children’s play adventures. “Hi Sofia, what are you playing? Oh, you are playing with the babies. I know where there are some more blankets? What do you think? Can you use them? I’ll go and get them.”

Scientific research shows us that the more the teacher is actually on the same level as the child whether it is sitting in a chair or being on the floor – this creates a stronger socio-emotional bond. Teachers are no longer supervising at a distance. Teachers are engaged with the children on the floor, on the ground, playing with them, laughing with them. The ECE teacher of the new millennia walks side by side with each child. Teacher and student are experiencing each day by moving together…in a gentle, loving, and friendly partnership.

3) Student Caring and Sharing

In the ECE classroom we want to see children interacting with children, children working together on projects, playing games together, having fun together. How does the ECE teacher support children in building relationships with their peers? One technique is through partner play. In partner play all the children are paired up. The teacher may at times allow the students to naturally pair up, but there may be times when the teacher will pair them together with an intention in mind.

What sorts of activities can partners do together? The teacher may choose to have each pair engage in a different activity OR every pair in the class may do the same activity together. Buddy Reading Time is a simple activity when one buddy will read a book to the other buddy and then the other buddy does do the same. Other partner activities can include doing a painting or drawing together, playing ‘house’ together, doing yoga together, building with blocks together, playing ‘puppies’ together.
What is the advantage of such an activity? The students can experiment with how to play with one another. They can through a very short experience discover what friends like, what friends don’t like. The teacher can walk around the room and coach the students, provide assistance, and compliment students who are sharing and being ‘friendly’,

How long does partner play occur? Generally 10 minutes. It works most effectively when done daily.

While working with young children, teachers remember that kids are just embarking on that first step of life. Many young ones do not know how to play with others, how to initiate play in a positive manner, and are not proficient in turn taking. Teachers need to ‘coach’ children and give them ‘pointers’ on how to play together. We want them to have conflicts so they can find their way to social emotional competency. If they do not know how to get from Point A to Point B in a social situation, then give them the information. In the early stages of relationship building, the teacher may need to give children the actual script, the actual words. Once children become more comfortable with ‘the script’, they will then begin to experiment and find their own words.

In this effort to support them in developing compassionate friendships, role playing with puppets can be extremely effective. Children LOVE seeing puppets doing things THE WRONG WAY. They are eager to step in and help the puppet find a ‘friendlier’ way. Teachers who use puppets in the classroom to make a point will find the children assimilating the information 300% faster and more effective than a speech or lecture AND EVERYONE IS LAUGHING AND HAVING FUN. The puppet may hit someone on the head, grab someone’s toy, push in front of someone in line, etc., etc. Using puppets is a WONDERFUL TOOL for children to learn better socio-emotional responses to every day situations.

Another technique that helps in communicating to children what friends like and what friends don’t like is chatting with the kiddos about the two kinds of behavior: warm ‘fuzzy behavior’ and ‘cold prickly behavior’. The puppet asks students to describe what ‘warm fuzzy behavior’ is. You may want to give a few examples like sharing a book, rubbing a friend’s back, and asking them for more ideas.

Then asking the students about what they think ‘cold prickly behavior’ might be. Again the puppet may demonstrate some examples of both of these behaviors and students can guess which behaviors are ‘warm fuzzy’ and which are ‘cold prickly’. Throughout every day, teachers will identify and notice these behaviors as they naturally manifest. Children who exhibit ‘cold prickly’ behavior may be requested to do a ‘do over’…or to respond to a situation with a different ‘warm fuzzy’ approach. “How can you do that differently? How can you do that in a ‘warm fuzzy’ way”?

Neohumanist teachers look for ways to have children show other children that they care. When the teacher is busy, invite another child to assist a student in meeting a need. When a child falls in the playground, teach the children that the nearest child can help that child up and bring her/him to the teacher. How many situations in your classroom every day can be handled by another student rather than the teacher? What activities can you facilitate in your classroom that will encourage children to work and help each other?

  • For example, “today we are all going to take turns walking up to someone in the class and tell your friend something that you like about them.”
  • Invite the children to sit in a line like train cars and they can massage the shoulders of the child in directly front?
  • What else can you do to promote children caring for children? How can children be supported in meeting their needs with each other?

A Job Board shows each child’s job for the week. These jobs may be helping around the school or helping each other, i.e., helping with coats, sweeping the floor, librarian, helping kids at nap time, feeding fish, watering plants, setting up lunch, inspector for inside the school (to make sure everything is put away), inspector for outdoor time, door holder, problem solver, etc.

Sand timers are the BEST TOOL for helping children to share. Watching the sand travel from the top of the timer to the bottom, is absolutely magical! Children can see the passage of time, when their turn will be coming up, and gives them a sense of safety, and confidence that their needs will be met.

Empower children so that:

  • They are the helpers.
  • They are the supporters.
  • They are the comforters.
  • They are resolving their own problems and conflicts.
  • They are assisting in the management of the classroom.

Let the children know that they are valued members of the classroom society.

4) Communication/Interactions

The greatest gift a teacher can give the children is singing, rhyming, chanting, playing games. Why? Because these are activities that uplift the emotions and positively redirect the thoughts. These are activities that bind us together. Any time the class is singing together, life is very good! When do we sing? Like Mary Poppins – all day long – when cleaning the classroom, going from one place to another, sitting down to eat – any time there is a change in the routine or activity.

Brain science teaches us that there are 3 things the brain CANNOT RESIST. They are rhyme, rhythm, and repetition. Sometimes known as the 3 R’s, these three tools, whether they are used together, or just a couple at a time – are extremely powerful. The more teachers use them in the classroom, the better the response, involvement, and relationship building with the students.

Neohumanist teachers demonstrate and support how to have a conversation. Again teachers remember that young children are on that very first step of learning about communication.

Ask children:

  • Tell me about one good thing that has happened to you today?
  • About what they are doing while they are doing some activity.
  • Look at the way you are moving your marker up and down the paper. I think that is quite extraordinary.
  • Tell me about this block structure.
  • Tell me what you like the most in the whole, wide world.

Teachers compliment and notice children (verbally aloud) when they are making good prosocial choices – when you see them sharing, taking turns, being kind, being considerate, being friendly. Comment positively on their efforts and participation. Too often much of our communication is negative based. Acknowledge that you notice what they are doing. Let them know that you enjoy your time with them.

  • You are such a good friend.
  • You are such a terrific helper.
  • I missed you so much when you weren’t here yesterday.
  • I love you so much.

Having conversations with young children is an effective way of building a caring connection. What questions can you ask that will extend and lengthen the conversation? How can you encourage your young friends to talk even more?! The goal of an effective conversation is to have four turns. That means I speak (1), the child speaks (2), I speak (3), and the child speaks (4). With the 4-5 year old child, the teacher will strive for at least six turns.

There are two kinds of questions. Simple and complex. Simple questions are the questions you ask the shy child, the child who is 2-3 years old. These are the ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘who’ questions. They require only short answers.

  • What are you doing?
  • Where is your shoe?
  • Who is that?

Then there are the questions that are more complex….the questions that inspire higher, critical thinking. These are the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. These questions extend and grow conversation.

  • Why do you think the water is getting hot?
  • How did you decide to put crayon and paint on your paper?

So what does the compassionate teacher do with the responses?

  • Well class, we have been talking about dinosaurs and today I have brought my friend ‘long neck’. She is vegetarian. She eats things that grow on plants, bushes, and trees. Raise your hand if you think you can tell me what this dinosaur eats.
  • The students will say: bananas, avocados, tomatoes.
  • And one student will say cheeseburgers.

To correct or not correct – that is the question. Once again teachers must remember that young children are on that first step in life. When a child is learning violin, she might hold it …. Well let’s say improperly. Will the teacher correct her immediately? No, the teacher will wait and allow the student to enjoy the instrument….and in time she slowly, slowly will change the position of the right arm, and later the right wrist, and later the left elbow, and the left wrist.

So in the world of learning conversation, how important is it to correct young children? In the beginning every answer is fine. In what universe is this ok? When we ask questions of a young child, we are asking them to: 1) Think about a topic, 2) Formulate a hypothesis, 3) Put together words in a sentence, 4) Wait patiently while raising the hand, and 5) Speak fearlessly. This is A LOT. In the beginning at the first step of development, all answers are welcome. As teachers, we are encouraging them to think, to guess, to contribute. Correction can come a bit later.

When communicating with children, give them:

  • A lot of time to respond…especially boys.
  • A turn in talking.
  • Your full listening attention.

What do we learn through conversation? Turn taking, patience, cooperation, kindness, listening, concentration – skills that are required for a successful elementary school experience.

How often does the teacher speak with each child? As often as s/he can during free play, playground time, upon arrival, lunch, bathroom time, departure…whenever….. you can.

Why would a teacher do this? To build a bridge to each child. To connect.

5) Infusing the Relationship with Fun and Joy

How does the teacher make learning fun for your children?

  • What makes children laugh? Integrate these things into every day activities.
  • Do you know the main interest of every child?
  • Have fun and laugh with them. Be silly.
  • Have meaningful experiences with them.
  • Be enthusiastic. Be dramatic.
  • Sing for no reason at all. Laugh for no reason at all.
  • Play games.

How does this enhance learning? When connections are made with the children, challenging behavior declines. Learning ‘goes through the roof’.

6) Empowering the Relationship with Positivity

What is the climate of your classroom?
Is it sunny? Is it cloudy? Is it rainy? Is there lightning and thunder? What sort of climate would you like in your classroom? How can teachers support the ’most positive climate’?

  • Through unconditional loving and caring.
  • No matter what.
  • Leave no child behind.
  • Create a family at school.
  • Create a different kind of learning environment.

What are some methodologies that promote ‘positive climate’?

  • Sweet and smiling behavior (especially when you don’t feel sweet and smiley)
  • Expressing physical closeness and affection
  • Showing affection through words
  • Positive comments. (Acknowledge. Acknowledge. Acknowledge.)
  • Extending activities and conversations.

Remaining positive with your students is one chapter. Keeping one’s thoughts positive is an entirely different chapter. Early childhood educators are continuously experiencing frustration and expressing patience. Keeping the mind filled with positivity can be challenging and exhausting.

Once upon a time there was a child at our school whom I will call Michael. Every day he would come to school and invite the other children to fight with him. He really didn’t want to fight but someone in his family thought that this behavior was ‘cute’. It drove me absolutely crazy. Then one day I decided to move out of the ‘this behavior is making me crazy’ chair to sit ‘in the opposite chair’. On this day I said, “Michael, come sit in my lap. I love you so. Tell me what you and Mommie have been doing.” Every day I hugged him up. Every day I told him how much I cared about him….and the inappropriate behavior declined. Taking the opposite stance, sitting in the opposite chair, embracing the opposite attitude – is a wonderful technique for occupying your mind with positivity.

7) Embracing the Relationship with Caring and Respect

So how does the teacher show emotional and social proximity?

How does the teacher show interest and caring?

Scientific research indicates that a warm, calm, melodic voice is more effective than an authoritative, cold, ordering, and directing voice. In fact, this is what I call ‘the best friend’ voice. This is the voice you use when speaking with your partner or best friend. Sweet and melodic…not flat and monotone. Think about and notice the voice you use when speaking with friends and compare it with your ‘classroom voice’. Bring that ‘best friend’ voice into the classroom and notice the results. Notice the feeling. Notice the connection that comes.

The neohumanist teacher fulfills the needs and requests of all students. If the teacher is unable to meet a student’s need, then the teacher lets the student know when it can be fulfilled. Other children may be invited to help. Even if a fear seems unreasonable, the teacher will acknowledge and value the fear that is very real to the child and is supportive in giving the child a better sense of balance without fear.

It is essential that the ECE teacher model the behavior that we want the students to integrate into their being. Teachers say: “please” and “thank you” ~ A LOT! Every time a teacher makes a request of a child (just as with a friend), ‘please’ is included with that request and when the request is granted, it is followed with ‘thank you’. These words are exchanged constantly throughout the day. The more the teacher models respect and consideration to each child, the more the children will begin adding these words (and the accompanying sentiments) to their verbal vocabulary with their friends and family and add them to their emotional repertoire.

Teachers acknowledge a personal misunderstanding and mistake with ‘I’m so sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand what you wanted.” “I’m sorry. You are right. This is taking a long time.”

Using imagination, creativity, and being silly, can take the teacher the distance. “Oh my goodness. Five of you need my help right away. (The teacher waves her arms up and down.) Am I an octopus? Do I have 8 arms? No, how many arms do I have. Yes, you are right. I only have two. So I will help Fernando and Allena first and then I will come to Finlay, Thea, and Sienna.”

In the neohumanist classroom teachers have the opportunity of creating a microcosm of what the world can be like. The teacher can support the development of a compassionate school family environment. It is indeed exciting that scientific research is validating the very foundational principles of neohumanist education, acknowledging the importance and redefining the essential best practices for reinforcing and nurturing the teacher-student relationship for supporting social and emotional competency.

The following is my favorite guideline for effective teaching in the early childhood classroom from the Vedas:

Let us move together. Let us sing together.
Let us come to know our minds together.
Unite our intentions. Let our hearts be inseparable.
So that we may live in harmony and
Become One with the Supreme.