Just a couple of weeks ago, I was with one of our teachers as she was filling out her welcome cards for students who will be returning to Dandelion’s dance school in September. She wrote each card with such joy and care. Every once in a while, she would interrupt me with a wee story about a child and how much she looked forward to seeing her again.
Many may be surprised to know that the summer is a busy time of year for Dandelion’s teachers. Although summer does indeed provide a break from our regular programs, it is also an intense time of planning, preparing and developing new aspects of our programming for the upcoming year. But as the end of summer comes into sight, our thoughts at Dandelion turn to our students. We get excited to welcome new students and reconnect with those returning to us. They are why we do what we do.
However, we also know that many children, even if they are excited to come back to class, also feel nervous. Even if they are returning to the same teacher they had the year before, the summer break may make them feel nervous or shy to return. They might wonder, “Does my teacher remember me? Did she miss me?” Or, if they are new to Dandelion, they might wonder “Will my new teacher like me?”
This is where the importance of “collecting” our students comes in. “Collecting” is a term coined by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, whose work provides part of the foundation for all of Dandelion’s programs (a topic for a future blog post!). He beautifully describes this construct in his book Hold Onto Your Kids. “Collecting” is likely something you already do instinctively if you are a parent or a teacher – so instinctively that you probably have not had a name for it, until now.
When you “collect” a child, you are making an effort to connect with that child so that they can feel comfortable and connected to you. Parents often collect their children across the day in many different ways – from little greeting rituals after being apart for a period of time, like a morning hug or an after-school snack together to chat about the day. Many teachers also instinctively collect their students at the beginning of each class. Some teachers greet each child individually with a hello. Others may collect a class as a whole with a quick ‘joke of the day’ or some other ritual that is intended to welcome students back to class before their day begins.
These little moments bring children back into relationship with us after they have been separate, either physically or emotionally, for a time. Building and reinforcing relationships with children is essential, as they learn best when they feel safe and connected to the adult who is caring for and teaching them. This warmth lets them relax and therefore provides more mental room and energy for attention and learning. It also lets children know that you care about them, you notice them and that they matter to you.
At Dandelion, we truly value the importance of relationship and how it supports our students’ learning process. Because we ask our students to create – not just memorize dances or learn steps – collecting them is crucial. In order to create, one must feel safe and know that her ideas are very welcome. As the Founder of Dandelion, collecting my students was something I did long before I knew the word. I just knew kids needed to know they were seen, heard and welcome, even before formally starting classes each year.
Now that Dandelion’s classes are taught by many different teachers, the practice of collecting has been integrated into all our teacher training and embedded in our programs. The summer break is long, and we know we have to begin collecting our students before they even arrive at their first class. For that reason, all of our welcome cards for all the students in our Children’s Program are now in the mail. Each child gets one of these personal cards from her teacher. For the students that are returning to us, this reassures them that we haven’t forgotten about them and that we look forward to seeing them. For new students, this contact point sends a clear message that we want to know her and that we are excited she is joining us!
People who come to our shows often remark, ”How do you get the students to do that?! How are they so open? How can they create such incredible work at such a young age?” Well, it doesn’t simply come from teaching them. That I know.
It comes from helping them feel safe enough with us so that they can share who they are, freely.
The collecting of our students is not a chore, but a blessing. It’s what makes us tick…and what makes us look forward to the end of summer each year.
Read more about collecting – Hold Onto Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld, PhD and Gabor Mate, MD
Published by Vintage Canada (www.randomhouse.ca)