Environmental Education Teacher, Misty, took a group of three-year-olds into the garden to feed snails and slugs to the chickens. She explained how chickens are also fertilizing and tilling the soil when they eat weeds and grubs–a little lesson in interdependence. Then, she sent them off to look for food suitable for chickens.
Misty was examining snails with two students, when she heard a racket and looked up to see Max lifting up the fence up and bringing it back down again and again, which was particularly disturbing to Fluffy, who panicked and escaped from the garden the next time Max lifted the fence high enough.
Misty responded automatically, “Why did you do that?” (Meaning, “Boy am I mad at you; now you have ruined everything.”)
In response she got, “I don’t know.” (Meaning, “I have no idea why I did that; it seemed like fun. Please don’t be mad at me. I didn’t mean any harm. I sure hope everything will be okay. I can’t face the idea that I have ruined the lesson and made you mad.”)
Recovering her composure, Misty said, “Please go back to the classroom because I need some time to calm down since I am so upset. I will talk to you later.” Then, she realized that she needed to send the whole class back, because she would need time to catch Fluffy. She had worked hard with the students to make Fluffy unafraid and approachable, and now all that was ruined. When Misty finally was able to pick her up, Fluffy was so afraid that she dropped a bunch of feathers. (Fluffy hates to be picked up.)
After Misty had calmed down, she went in to the classroom to talk to Max. “When you shook the cage and let Fluffy out I got really upset. I am sorry I got mad,” she said. “I got mad because Fluffy hates to be chased and caught. It also made me worry that you were hurting a chicken. I need you to figure out how to make me feel better and how to make Fluffy feel better because you upset both of us when you lifted up the fence.”
Max said, “I can say sorry to both of you.”
Misty said, “I will accept that, but Fluffy won’t understand; so you’ll have to think of something different for her.”
After trying out several ideas on Misty, Max finally settled on feeding Fluffy. But when they went to give her the food, she was so afraid of Max that she wouldn’t eat. Misty said, “Well, it looks like even that isn’t going to fix it.” They decided to walk away so that Fluffy could enjoy her treat.
Misty’s brilliance as an educator shows in several ways:
- She let the environment do the teaching.
- She didn’t try to make everything better, which left room for Max to take responsibility. “If you break it, you fix it,” is a school rule, but in this teachable moment one of the lessons was that sometimes “fixing it” isn’t that easy. When you break a relationship, sometimes it will take some work and time to fix it.
- Misty was willing to abandon the lesson, because the teachable moment was far more valuable than what she’d planned.
- She understood that we often learn more from mistakes than from successes.
- Misty acknowledged her own mistake, thus modeling that mistakes are learning opportunities.
- She saw Max as a resilient organism with the potential to work on relationships that require more than a quick fix.
Sometimes the consequences of a mistake are too big for a person to take responsibility; the incident in the farm with the chicken might have been one of those times. Who knows? In this messy business called education we often don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, though. Some relationships need to be given time. A professional knows how to forgive. Children can be easily forgiven, and Max has plenty of time to teach Fluffy that he can be trusted.