As I look back on this past week, I realize that I spent very little time teaching curriculum and more time working on life skills. I have two choices at this point. I could think, “Oh wow, I’m really far behind!” or “I’ve made a huge investment that I hope will pay off in the future.” I choose the latter.

My students have been coming to with me problems that happen at recess: someone left them out of a game, two friends were whispering something not-so-nice about them or they saw someone being treated badly and didn’t know what to do.

When we talk through these problems, it’s obvious to me that they have the answers on how to solve their issues, but they need a tool to help them do so.

So, I introduce the talking and listening chairs. One chair is marked “T”, the other “L”.

We use one of the problems that happened to illustrate how to use the chairs. For example, “Bill” was upset that “Megan” was not listening to his ideas when they were trying to solve a math problem together. So, Bill sat in the “T” chair and Megan sat in the “L” chair and each had opportunities to talk about what was bothering them and listen to how the other person was feeling. It quickly became evident that they was room for compromise on both ends and they seemed relieved to be able to move on from this problem.

Like most tools, the talking and listening chairs also have boundaries, which I discuss with my students:

* If the person you want to take to the chairs is not ready, you may need to wait.

* If you go out to talk, you will need to attentively listen as well.

* If the problem takes longer than 10 minutes to solve, you may need some help.

* When classmates are using the chairs, we can show respect by giving them some privacy.

* If there are many students involved in the problem, we may need to discuss it as a whole class.

When students ask to use the chairs, I keep track of what time they step out in the hallway and occasionally walk by the door, so the talking and listening remains positive and focused.

As a tool, it can be very successful at helping students who lack confidence to speak up when something is bothering them. I especially enjoy watching, when some of my students who are still learning English approach a classmate to say, “I need to talk to you.”

I have yet to teach a curriculum subject that is more rewarding than that moment.


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