Positive Preschool Program Changes That Will Outlast the Pandemic

By Molly Breen

Positive Preschool Program Changes That Will Outlast the PandemicJanuary is traditionally a month when we take inventory and prepare for a fresh start. We organize our storage spaces, toss out or recycle the things we no longer need, and evaluate whether the items we put in our “keep” piles are useful or practical. And this is true with our teaching approaches too! As educators, we reflect on what is working and what isn’t, and we tweak and refine our pedagogy to best serve our students and prevent burnout in the New Year.

As we turn the page on 2020, however, I am feeling less “fresh start” and more reflective about what we have learned from the pandemic so far—much of which I plan to carry with me as a teacher and embed in our program’s plans for the future. As widely available immunizations are just becoming perceptible way out ahead on the horizon, I can’t help but think about these past months of pandemic teaching and learning with some sense of nostalgia (too soon?): small groups, simplified program plans, more time spent outdoors, compassionate staff and families who work together for the greater good . . . these are all things that are staying in my keep pile for sure! When it comes to this new year and, with some degree of certitude, vaccines for one and all, what will YOU keep from this pandemic year, and what will you get rid of?

Like many of you at the start of the pandemic in the United States, I thought we might be out of school for a week or two as the medical community and our local and national governments figured out next steps to contain the spread of COVID-19. Teachers from my program were excited for a longer spring break, and I did my best to temper their enthusiasm with pragmatic words like, “We’ll see,” while secretly holding optimism that it would be only a couple days—a long weekend. That was on March 17. Fast-forward to our preschool graduation at the end of May, done over Zoom with a puppet theater–style stage and tiny full-body photos of each graduate on popsicle sticks marching over the rainbow arch from preschool to kindergarten. The months before were spent in iterative versions of online preschool while our state, like so many others, weathered stay-at-home orders that seemed to extend interminably.

While many centers were able to remain open during those first months of stay-at-home orders around the country, we opted to use that time for piloting a preschool-style remote learning plan (fashion shows, dance parties, science experiments, lunchtime read alouds, and so on). Over the summer, we converted our spaces into standalone classrooms (we have always shared our rooms, so this took a lot of redesign and new materials), added a classroom, and designated hallways and bathrooms for specified use to restrict pod and teacher interaction. Our enrollment plummeted but then rebounded with “high fives” (kids who waited for kindergarten due to online learning), and we landed in September with a hopeful group of kids, families, and teachers who were ready to commit to some major lifestyle adjustments so children could attend in-person learning.

Another major adjustment to our program plan, aside from the podding and physical changes in our building, was to make outdoor learning a primary classroom. We purchased utility wagons, composting toilets, and pop-up latrine tents; we received donations of frame packs so teachers could take indoor materials outdoors; and we collaborated in our teaching teams to find neighborhood areas that would be good and safe for urban adventuring. At our program, we have always prioritized plenty of outdoor time for play and learning, but we truly reconceptualized the outdoors as our best classroom. Although we are in the middle of a city, we are fortunate to have lots of green spaces to explore, but we still had to get creative and expand our definition (and walking radius) of safe outdoor exploration to include a nearby University campus, a community-tended mountain bike track in a drainage ditch, and other unconventional spaces. Public playgrounds were off-limits, but after some initial disappointment, our students adapted to find genuine joy in the adventure “playgrounds” of our community spaces.

A key feature to the success of our pandemic program plan was family participation. No, it wasn’t participation in the typical way we might imagine: no family events, no parents in the building even! Instead, family participation this year meant that families agreed to avoid any unnecessary social gathering—even with the ones they love the most. It meant reporting symptoms of or close-contact with COVID-19, and an enduring flexibility to keep kids home until they had a negative COVID test or clearance from a physician. Instead of dropping kids off at the door (which can be hard for kids—and parents), we provided a fun and developmental “walking school bus” so our preschoolers could join friends and teachers at a designated “bus stop” and then walk into school together. We added a communication app so that all families could easily communicate with the school and the teachers and so that teachers could easily load daily reports and photos, and share important reminders; in some ways this has provided even greater connection with families than in typical circumstances. Like our families, our teachers also made sacrifices in this regard and took every precaution for safe sanitizing, masking, and reporting illness.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we changed nearly everything about our program to accommodate all of the provisions required for safe learning during the pandemic. And it was worth it! To date, we have been healthy and COVID-free and we’ve also learned about our own resilience. As they say, sometimes crisis compels positive change. Although it may be too soon to tell, I predict that we will retain some of our program changes post-pandemic: the increased time spent outside, smaller groups, and a commitment to relationships over program perfection (whatever that means), plus increased daily communication with families. And, arguably, we will all be transformed by this pandemic time, we might all emerge with a renewed commitment to care for one another and know that, indeed, we belong to one another. At this moment of transition to the new year, the hoped-for fresh start, and as we make our attempts to organize those things we wish to keep, toss, or give away, I will be happy to leave behind the isolation and separation and fear of the pandemic. But I urge early childhood practitioners everywhere to consider the silver linings of this time . . . and to put them in the keep pile.

Molly BreenMolly Breen, M.A., E.C.E., has worked with kids and families for nearly two decades as an educator. A believer in lifelong learning, her heart is in early childhood, where the seeds of curiosity, character, and community are planted. Through her work with children as a practitioner in the classroom, Molly has developed broad expertise in curriculum development and instruction, behavior guidance, and social and emotional learning. In her role as a program director, she has created innovative approaches to professional and program development, family engagement, and community outreach. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and three kids.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Goal Setting During Uncertain Times: How Educators Can Help Students Look Forward

By Stephanie Filio, M.Ed., author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis

Goal Setting During Uncertain Times: How Educators Can Help Students Look ForwardWhen it comes to goal setting, I would typically advise that people face forward instead of looking back. However, 2020 threw us so many curveballs and complications that I think it is important to also reflect on what we have accomplished and done this past year. It often felt as if we had little control amid the numerous traumas and problematic situations we  experienced in 2020, ranging from day-to-day difficulties to global crises. Turning toward a brand-new year with our students, perhaps the first thing we can do is simply congratulate ourselves for still being here.

Our students have grown so incredibly much over the past year, even though they have missed more class time than ever before and regressed (or found absence) in social communication. They have also, however, learned a huge lesson about life: sometimes we encounter giant obstacles that we were not prepared for and sometimes we have to learn to adapt quickly.

As I think about the past year, I continue to be amazed that we still choose to get up in the morning and interact with who we can, attend school (even if it is online), and make each minute and hour go by with some sort of task (even if it’s different than what we would hope). My first personal goal for the new year? To congratulate myself for the things I have done in the midst of chaos this past year. I invite everyone to do the same, and to include in this compliment the acknowledgment that we have another year ahead of us and that we are willing to face it.

Of course, it is perfect timing for us to encourage our students to embrace the turn of the year and set some goals for the future, and we can remind them of their strength from last year as a catalyst for change. The true challenge for educators will be to find a gentle balance and to be mindful that we do not stoke retraumatization by the disparities and injustices our students have seen and experienced. Instead we must remind them of the resilience they’ve shown through it all and the possibilities for the future.

Gratitude-Centered Goal Setting

There is no shame in starting to set goals with a little bit of gratitude! Having students reflect on things they have been through in the last year can lead to discussions about how they were able to take charge of those things that they had control over.

Start by having students write a short journal entry about 2020, but with a twist. Instead of making an exhaustive list of ways that things went wrong, try something fun like having them pick an emoji or a meme to represent what last year was like for them.

Next, ask students to pick an emoji or a meme that represents how they got through it. Allowing students to share with their classmates their own personal interventions for getting through a tumultuous time will help them develop goal-setting skills while also encouraging them to recognize their power and find empathy in listening to others.

After students identify their strengths, begin to shift their attention to using these capabilities in the new year! You can start by asking students what they are looking forward to this year. Maybe they know that there are things they are going to have to tackle, or maybe there are things they are excited about. We want to help students find tangible goals for realistic experiences that will likely arise in their lives so they can envision an outcome they’d like for themselves.

Active Goal Setting

As we have learned this year, the future is always up for a swift game-changer. So we must be ready to pivot our goal setting and remain open to many possibilities within our hopes. We can help students understand that sometimes things happen that make our goals more difficult to reach (like the pandemic did for our students who had looked forward to volunteering in the community in 2020) but that may even bring about new possibilities (like successful online campaigns for advocacy).

Here are a couple ways students can have a broader look at goal setting and allow their goals to really represent the hopes they have for the future.

Collages. Instead of words, students can use pictures from magazines to create visual representations of what they would like to see in the upcoming year.

Collaborative Google Doc with friends. Show students how we can be stronger together when we collaborate by allowing them to interact with each other when discussing their goals.

Bullet journal. Record overarching words that represent hopes and dreams for the future instead of specific targets.

Daily goals recorded each day and tucked somewhere into students’ clothes or binders. Help students develop good goal-setting habits by providing time for them to record daily small-scale goals that they can recall throughout the day or week.

Character Education

For some of us, goal setting is about cultivating the parts of ourselves that are most beneficial to the things we would like to accomplish and the relationships we would like to strengthen. Character education is a great way to help students identify what traits they would like to foster to find better circumstances and interactions in their lives. It might be helpful to your students if you explore character traits that are healthy and beneficial to growth. This post is a good start to understanding how character education can be implemented in your office or classroom.

Adults Set Goals Too!

As you work through goal setting with students, it is important for students to see you set some goals too. Feel free to share your personal goals so students can get an idea of what goal setting looks like for you. You are likely your students’ biggest fan and cheerleader and a powerful person that they look to for the way that the world operates. Showing students how hopeful you are for your life and your goals, and for their goals and their future, will impact their own promising outlooks and worldviews.


Stephanie Filio, author of Responding to Student TraumaStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.

Responding to Student TraumaStephanie is the author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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12 Creative Ways to Find Funding for Your Classroom

By Shannon Anderson, author of  Mindset Power: A Kid’s Guide to Growing Better Every Day

12 Creative Ways to Find Funding for Your ClassroomI’ve taught for 25 years and have had the opportunity to bring some pretty amazing experiences to my classroom and students. What I’ve learned, though, is that big projects and ideas can come with a price tag.

I’ve purchased large items, like couches, room transformation materials, and even a mini stage! I’ve also funded class shirts. I cover an annual book publishing project for students, and had the main characters of those books turned into plush animals.

Just about anything you plan is going to cost you time, money, or a mixture of both. But I’ve found some creative ways to pay for things over the years, from fundraisers to grants. Here are some ideas to try.

1.  Donors Choose 

This is a company that is specifically designed to help teachers fund projects and materials for their classrooms. You create a profile and describe your needs, and people and businesses can make tax-deductible contributions. (The company does build in a commission to fund its operations.)

2. GoFundMe

This is a company that crowdsources funding for projects for anyone, not just teachers. The setup is very simple, and you can get started in minutes. I have heard that some schools’ administrations do not allow teachers to use GoFundMe, so check with your principal before setting up a fundraiser.

3. School Budgets

There are separate budgets for the many moving parts of your school system. If you are a newer teacher, you may not realize you can make a request. Some of these funds include Title I, gifted and talented, extracurricular, and grade-level allotments. It doesn’t hurt to ask your principal if you can apply for relevant resources.

4. Parent-Teacher Organizations

Your PTO/PTA may offer opportunities for classrooms or teachers to write a mini grant or use a certain amount of the PTO budget for special purchases. Tip: Attend PTO meetings and become involved at some level.

5. Businesses

There are many big and small businesses that offer funding for schools. Walmart, Dollar General, and Target, for example, offer education grants that are easy to fill out. Many local businesses are willing to help out a community school if you can find a way to thank them publicly for their advertising purposes.

6. Sororities and Service Clubs

There are probably sororities and service clubs in your community that will support a project if it aligns with their mission or goals. Some have grants you can apply for, and others will give you a donation toward your project. You can check online for organizations in your area.

7. Fundraising Projects

Besides the traditional door-to-door sales of candles, gift wrap, and cheese spreads, there are many creative ways you can earn money as a class. One of my favorites is the Read-a-Thon. Give students a reading log to record their daily reading time for the month. They ask friends and family members to pledge a certain dollar amount for each hour the student reads that month. At the end of the month, students tally up how many hours they read and collect from those who pledged.

A similar idea is to host a Math-a-Thon, fun run, or car wash, where kids are doing some kind of productive work to earn the money in need. Most people would rather donate to something like this than buy overpriced popcorn or candy bars.

8. Host an Event

Host a dinner, variety show, dance, or some other type of family event where you charge an admission donation to attend. It can be profitable to pair your event with a silent auction featuring donated items or have a raffle for prizes. Consider setting up a photo booth and charging a few dollars for a commemorative picture.

9. Education Organizations

There are many organizations that exist to support teachers. For example, most states have their own literacy associations, gifted and talented programs, or even teacher retirement organizations. Most of them offer grant opportunities, which you can find if you look on their websites or talk to one of their leaders. They set aside money in their annual budgets toward projects and grants for classrooms. You just need to write your application in a compelling way to show the amazing opportunity they will be providing if they fund you.

10. Collaborate with Others

Another way to purchase a big-ticket item or event for your students is to collaborate with other teachers or classrooms. Let’s say you want to bring an author to your school, but the cost is $1,000 for the day. You could coordinate with other schools and work with the author to see if there is a way to have the author visit three local schools in one day and split the cost.

If you want to fund materials for a special themed project, set of books, or a room transformation, you could share costs with other teachers and each use the materials a different week or month.

11. Spare Change Drive

Send home information with students about what you are raising funds for and collect coins for the project. You can pair this with Grandparents’ Day programs or Family Literacy Nights. You’ll be surprised by how quickly coins can add up.

12. Kids’ Creations

If your school allows it, you can have students create magnets or calendars with their artwork, or even put together cookbooks of their families’ favorite recipes. These can all be sold online or at an event to raise funds for a special project or materials. Parents can’t resist these unique creations and may even purchase extras for gifts.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that you may have to combine a couple of these ideas to get fully funded for bigger projects. When you see your students’ smiles and even hear past students reminisce about special memories they had in your classroom, you will be so glad you took the time to make it happen. I always say, a more exciting experience for your students is also a more exciting experience for you! See if you can get some of your classroom wishes granted!

Shannon AndersonShannon Anderson has her master’s degree in education and is currently a third-grade teacher, high-ability coordinator, and presenter, and a former first-grade teacher, adjunct professor, and literacy coach. She loves spending time with her family, playing with words, teaching kids and adults, running very early in the morning, traveling to new places, and eating ice cream. She also enjoys doing author visits and events. Shannon lives in Indiana with her husband, Matt, and their daughters, Emily and Madison.

Free Spirit books by Shannon Anderson:

Mindset PowerY is for YetPenelope PerfectCoasting Casey

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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How to Set Family Goals and Reap the Rewards

By Beverly K. Bachel, author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens

How to Set Family Goals and Reap the Rewards“Laugh more.”

“Travel to Japan.”

“Go green.”

These are just three of the family goals that parents I’ve talked with have set.

Why are family goals important?

For the same reason individual goals are important: they provide us a sense of purpose, they hold us accountable, and they transform our dreams into reality.

By setting family goals, your family learns to work together as a unit. When families work together, enthusiasm soars, as do empathy and creativity. And by making the most of each family member’s talents, you can often achieve family goals more quickly than individual goals, even if the family goals are more challenging.

Plus, when you take time to reflect and set shared goals as a family, you invest not only in individual success, but also in family success. Your family learns how to work better together. In the process, you strengthen your family relationships—and aren’t relationships what family is all about?

Here are three examples of family goals.

Project Laugh Lines

A desire to laugh is what led the Fletcher Johnsons to their family goal.

“Last summer, I noticed that my husband has the most gorgeous laugh lines,” says Jacque Fletcher Johnson. “But when I looked in the mirror, I was devastated. I don’t have any.” This, combined with the fact that the couple’s 11-year-old daughter Eva describes her mom as the family’s “serious one,” led Jacque to decide that it was time for her family to amp up the humor in their lives.

“It seems that children laugh so much more than adults,” says Jacque. “I know I used to laugh a lot more than I do now. There are even days when I don’t laugh at all.”

So, the family set a goal to laugh more often, which they combined with another family goal: hiking Minnesota’s 70+ state parks. To make the hikes fun and ensure the success of what they’ve dubbed “Project Laugh Lines,” the family makes up stories, sings silly songs, and shares jokes.

“Eva really lights up in the woods, and we laugh until our sides ache,” says Jacque. “Even mosquito attacks don’t dampen our fun, nor does the fact that we now put on our masks and keep our distance on the rare occasions we encounter other hikers.”

Japan Is Still the Game Plan

Elizabeth di Grazia, her partner Jody, and their two teenage children, Antonio and Crystel, have set a family goal of traveling to Japan.

It all started with a PowerPoint presentation.

Elizabeth explains: “Crystel got interested in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics because a runner from our Minneapolis suburb was an Olympic hopeful. So, Crystel did what she often does when trying to convince us of something: she created a PowerPoint presentation. It included facts and photos of the Olympics and Japan, and it vibrated with excitement.”

Before long, the family was all-in on planning the trip. “Crystel agreed to be our travel planner and tour guide,” says Elizabeth. “She did all the research and set our itinerary.”

She also led the way in establishing a Japan vacation fund. “The kids agreed to clean the house, which meant we could give up our housecleaner,” says Elizabeth. “The money we would have spent on that went into our fund, along with the money we saved by eating at home or forgoing other expenses.”

Although the pandemic put an end to the 2020 Olympics, all four family members remain determined to visit Japan. “We’ve saved enough for our plane tickets and lodging, and we plan to go as soon as it’s safe to do so—hopefully for the rescheduled 2021 Olympics,” says Elizabeth.

Going Green

With a shared desire to be better stewards of the environment, the Hawes have set a family goal of reducing their environmental impact. That means recycling their organics, carrying refillable water bottles, and buying more items in bulk, something that has come in handy during the pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, when they were eating out in restaurants, it also meant keeping a to-go kit in the trunk of their car. “We would grab our kit whenever we headed into a restaurant,” says Mike. “That way we could package up our leftovers without taking a plastic container that could end up in the ocean forever. Our kit also included silverware, reusable straws, and cloth napkins so we didn’t have to use the plastic and paper ones offered by restaurants.”

And because both parents and all four kids are committed to the family goal, they frequently remind one another to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

“We’re also doing a pretty good job with the fourth R: refuse,” says Mike. “For instance, when ordering from Amazon we request our orders be consolidated into the fewest number of packages and shipments, even if they take longer to arrive. And while we rarely shop in stores these days, we always say ‘no thanks’ to plastic bags.”

The Hawes also hold each other accountable for achieving their goal. “We have one daughter who buys most of her clothes secondhand, and she encourages the rest of us to do the same,” says Mike. “And our son, who’s in charge of taking out our recycling, reminds us whenever we’ve inadvertently thrown away something that should be recycled or put into our compost bin.”

How to Get Up and Goal

Here are some tips for setting and achieving your own family goals.

  • Involve the entire family. Family goals shouldn’t be set in a vacuum, nor should they be just the adults’ responsibility. Instead, involve your kids in setting goals via a formal family meeting or during a spur-of-the-moment family pizza night. Be sure to give everyone a chance to share their ideas and suggestions.
  • Make your goals SMART. SMART goals are savvy (easy to understand and use), measurable (define exactly what you want to do), active (spell out the specific actions you need to take), reachable (stretch, but don’t break, you), and timed (come with a clear date or time by which you can say, “We did it!”).
  • Keep your goals in sight. The di Grazias have a map of Japan hanging in their kitchen where they see it when they sit down for meals, and Elizabeth regularly emails Crystel articles about Japan to keep the goal of their trip alive.
  • Keep track of your progress. To tally the Minnesota state parks they visit, the Fletcher Johnsons joined the Minnesota State Parks and Trails Passport Club. Each time they visit a park, their passport gets stamped.
  • Reevaluate as you go. While the Hawes found it easy to reduce their environmental impact at home, it took some experimentation to develop their to-go kit. “At first, it just included plastic containers,” says Mike. But then we noticed how many paper napkins, plastic straws, and plastic utensils the six of us were leaving behind, and we knew we needed to create a more comprehensive kit so we could say no to these items as well.”
  • Celebrate success. Some goals, such as the di Grazia family goal of traveling to Japan, are a reward in and of themselves. But other goals, especially those that can take a long time to reach, require rewards along the way to keep everyone motivated. Take the Fletcher Johnsons, for instance. When they visited their 25th state park, Minnesota State Parks awarded them a free night of camping; when they visit their final state park, they’ll receive a customized Passport Club plaque that Eva is already looking forward to displaying at home in a place of honor.

So, call your family together, get goaling, and reap the rewards!

BONUS! Download a “Setting SMART Goals” worksheet.

Beverly BachelBeverly Bachel is a freelance writer and the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens. One of the current goals she’s set with her family is to text each other more often.


What Do You Really WantBeverly is the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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3 Simple Steps for Effective Conflict Resolution

By Chris Amirault, Ph.D., and Christine Snyder, M.A., coauthors of Finding Your Way Through Conflict: A Guide for Early Childhood Educators

Conflict has lots of facets, and engaging in conflict skillfully takes a lot of insight and practice. We’re convinced that there’s one tool in particular that can help you develop your prowess in conflict: a method called looping.

3 Simple Steps for Effective Conflict Resolution

What Is Looping?

Looping is a three-step conflict resolution practice that allows you to lead the conflict resolution from the inside out and gives you specific tools to avoid bad habits. And it is based in the key research insights that help folks understand what happens in conflict. Looping allows you to set aside your brain’s insistence that it has a situation all figured out. When you do this, you open up space for considering impact, contribution, and a more complete reality.

Why Looping?

When we began the research for Finding Your Way Through Conflict, we knew we were going to deepen our understanding of the foundational concepts behind the work. We devoted a lot of time to exploring recent thinking about the importance of recognizing and honoring the difference between intent and impact, blame and contribution, and, especially, what our brains perceive and reality.

As we integrated those insights into our book, we started to share them in presentations with both small and large groups, and folks seemed quite engaged to learn that content. But when it came to putting those new insights into practice, they seemed to struggle—and we have a theory about why.

Last year was a tough year for everyone. Sustained racial violence, the pandemic, and the election season often conspired to turn our focus inward. It seems that as we limited our social interactions and kept our physical distance, tightening our media bubbles and doing all we can to stay safe and sane, we lost some of the ability we had to let others into our world.

We arrived at this conclusion after doing our workshop for hundreds of people at NAEYC, Zero to Three, edWeb, and elsewhere. It’s as if many folks have forgotten what it means to listen, particularly to others with whom they disagree. Unfortunately for our COVID-exhausted selves, the only way through conflict is to engage with people we might find idiotic, misguided, or otherwise wrong.

We’re convinced that getting through 2021 will demand a return to listening well, and looping is just the process for developing that skill.

Learning to loop is like learning a new dance, and like any interactive choreography, looping requires a willing partner. That jerk on social media who isn’t really reading your posts, the uncle at the Zoom family reunion who calls you names, a colleague who “uh-huhs” throughout a conversation without paying attention: you can’t loop with these folks! But we’ve found that if you can lead with the following three steps to engage conflict with looping, your commitment to active listening may enable others to hear the same music and start dancing with you.

Step 1: Inquire

First, inquire. You can initiate a dialogue by prioritizing someone else’s perspective, but you must dig into that perspective with true attention, respect, and interest. The questions are simple: “What happened from your perspective?” “What do you mean when you say that?” “Can you tell me more about how that felt?” Initiating a dialogue is easy peasy, truly!

The hard part, of course, is listening carefully to the other person’s answer. Make eye contact and, especially if you’re on video chat, nod as the person responds. Show the other person with your body that you are listening. And please don’t talk for a while. Your mouth can make your ears shut down.

Step 2: Restate

When you have asked a few thoughtful, sincere questions about the situation and listened carefully to the other person’s responses, you’re ready for the second step: restating what the person said. Don’t summarize or paraphrase; do your best to restate the person’s words as precisely as you can, avoiding substitutes or synonyms. Show that you respect the person’s perspective by replicating it using their own words.

When restating, it’s always a good idea to check your work. “Did I get that right?” “Do I understand you correctly?” and similar questions will help you do that. Get the most complete picture you can.

Step 3: Acknowledge

Finally, the last step involves acknowledging the legitimacy of the other person’s perspective on the situation. You can use sentences like, “I can see how you’d feel that way,” and, “That perspective really makes sense to me.” Of course, you have to mean these words when you say them. And that can be a hard thing for our brains to do in conflict.

So before you begin acknowledging, remind your brain that acknowledgment is not agreement. You are not saying “You are right and I am wrong.” Rather, you’re moving beyond right versus wrong, getting your brain unstuck from blame and judgment, and trying to expand your perspective on the situation. Doing so requires that you engage the other person’s perspective with sincerity and respect, and acknowledgment is key to finding your way through conflict with that person.


Looping is key to successful conflict resolution, but it takes practice. Fortunately, there are fun ways to learn how to inquire, restate, and acknowledge with colleagues, friends, and family. Here’s one that takes all of five minutes.

Find a partner and ask them, “What’s the weirdest movie, TV show, music, book, food, or habit that you really enjoy? The weirder the better!” Then start looping: inquire about the weird thing, getting details and asking why they like it so much; restate those details using the person’s actual words; and acknowledge that—however weird you may think it is—their kooky predilection makes sense.

When you practice, keep an eye and ear out for your weak spots. Did you ask only one question during your inquiry? Did you lose track of the person’s words, making restating difficult? And, especially in your acknowledgment, did little judgments like, “Well that is weird for sure!” creep in? Now you know where you need to focus your attention when looping in a real conflict, when your brain is going to have an even harder time doing those things!

We’ve often ended our most recent presentations with the best endorsement we can think of for looping: given the challenges of 2020, along with your safety and sanity, wouldn’t you like to have another person truly, authentically interested in connecting with you? We sure would! So here’s to a 2021 where we’re all looping our way through difficulty, dancing with each other through even the toughest times.

Chris AmiraultChris Amirault, Ph.D., is the school director of Tulsa Educare MacArthur in Oklahoma, and for more than three decades has dedicated himself to high-quality education, teaching courses and facilitating workshops on early childhood education, conflict, assessment and instruction, ethics and professionalism, challenging behavior, family engagement, antibias education, and equity. Prior to his arrival in Tulsa, he lived in Mexico, working as a consultant focusing on organizational culture, change management, and QRIS system design in Oregon, Rhode Island, and California.

For thirteen years prior to that, he served as executive director of the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center affiliated with Brown University in Rhode Island. During that time, he also taught early childhood education and development courses for area colleges and universities and served as a mentor and coach for providers throughout the community.

Author Christine SnyderChristine M. Snyder, M.A., has worked in early childhood education since 1999 as a teacher, center director, author, and trainer/coach. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education and a bachelor’s degree in child development. She is currently director of the University of Michigan Health System Children’s Center and assistant professor in the college of education at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan.

Previously, she was an early childhood specialist at the HighScope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where she focused on developing professional learning for teachers and curriculum for preschoolers and infants/toddlers. She facilitates training throughout the United States, internationally, and online, and has published several books, articles, training DVDs, and other classroom resources for teachers. She lives in Michigan.

Finding Your Way Through ConflictChris and Christine are coauthors of Finding Your Way Through Conflict: Strategies for Early Childhood Educators.

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