JULY 1, 2019 / by Cheryl Turner 

When things like Gentle Hands work well, it helps keep everyone sane.  But it means being intentional about teaching children exactly, precisely and specifically what you need them to do and how to do it.  Like many of you, there were times when I forgot to do this.   

How do things work around here?  That’s the question in every student’s mind as they navigate a day in your classroom.  The procedures, routines, rituals and rules that define how we do things around here are not more important than instruction.  But they are the secret sauce that enable teaching and learning to be maximized.  It’s typical to teach procedures at the start of a new year, particularly the critical ones like lining up, transitions, snack procedures and bathroom protocol.  After that, teachers often downshift into auto-pilot, assuming that children now know and should just do exactly what’s expected.  When they don’t, it’s viewed as misbehavior.  Keep in mind that in addition to the “highest demand“ procedures in classrooms, there are hundreds of less notable expectations…. Use one paper towel---not five, raise your hand without saying “Ooh, ooh, ooh!”, put the caps back on the markers…   When things like this work well, it helps keep everyone sane.  But it means being intentional about teaching children exactly, precisely and specifically what you need them to do and how to do it.  Like many of you, there were times when I forgot to do this.   


When I moved to lower grades I quickly learned that five and six-year-olds have a lot of things they need to tell you… especially at your busiest moment.  Also, at the start of the year, until they can remember what to call you, your name is “Teacher”.  One of my pet peeves was a child who always took advantage of the very moment when my attention is on someone else-----a parent, the principal, another teacher or a classmate.  For the persistent child, this seemed the perfect time to tell me about those new sneakers that light up when you walk.  That’s the exact moment when little Jeremy is tapping my arm, pulling my sleeve or poking me in the ribs while methodically repeating, “Teacher… Teacher… Teacher… Teacher..“.  Quick acknowledgements like a hand placed on his shoulder or a “just a moment, Jeremy” only resulted in higher volume and an increased sense of urgency.  I was a pretty patient teacher, but this drove me bananas!  I found myself descending into the “lower centers” of my brain where Cheryl’s evil twin lives.  It’s the part of your brain where all things you want to say, but never actually do say live.   Thoughts like, “Dude, can’t you see I’m busy?” or “Don’t you know my name by now? It’s February!” come to mind.  Sometimes it felt personal, as if this kid was purposely trying to annoy me.  Of course, my sensible, reasonable brain knew that was ridiculous and it had to work hard to override evil twin’s thoughts. It was an exhausting battle. 


When children present those irritating behaviors that collectively can make your day feel chaotic, remind yourself that all behavior has meaning and that children use actions to communicate their needs and feelings.  Then ask yourself if you’ve taught a procedure to avoid the problem while still satisfying whatever need is being communicated.  In other words, have you taught them what to do INSTEAD of what they’re doing now.  If the answer is no, it’s time to get busy. That’s what I did with the “teacher,teacher” problem in the form of an easy five-step mini-lesson for using Gentle Hands:



Step 1 - Explain the procedure clearly

We talked about how they sometimes needed to get my attention or share some important news with me.  I want to hear all about the cool things you have to share, but sometimes I might be talking to another adult or a classmate.  So here is how you can get my attention: Lay a “gentle hand” on my arm. 

Step 2 - Demonstrate the procedure for children

I demonstrated laying a gentle hand on someone’s arm.  For contrast, I showed them a non-example, ie. a hand that isn’t gentle or a hand that isn’t on my arm.  With Gentle Hand you don’t need to call my name to get my attention because I can feel your gentle hand. 

Step 3 - Have children practice the procedure

We stood up as I moved around our circle and every child took a turn using the Gentle Hand technique on my arm.  Then we all turned to a neighbor and practiced the gentle hand technique.


Step 4 - Continue to remind the class of the procedure

I continued to emphasize Gentle Hand at various times during the day. Gentle Hand started to become a buzzword in our classroom.


Step 5 - Re-teach and acknowledge

Some children will have to be reminded and maybe even taken through the Gentle Hand steps again.  As children become practiced at Gentle Hand, acknowledge their efforts and successes.


From that moment on, my problem was solved because my students had one more tool in their toolbox that would help them to be classroom experts on how things work around here!     




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