This blog message was contributed by Anne Slaets (teacher training UCLL).
Parents, teachers, grandparents, … they are all involved in the education of a child. And they all have their own views and approaches. With the aim to aid and support all parties involved in raising a child together, we have developed a support tool, called the “pedagogical staircase”.
You do not raise a child on your own. Take Viv, a happy five-year-old toddler. As with any other child multiple people contribute to the way she is raised. Each one of them having their own views on parenting as well as their own questions and doubts.
- Teacher Sarah: How can I intensify my relationship with Viv?
- Dad: Am I not too indulgent?
- Mum: Why does Viv always start to whine during the household’s evening rush hour?
- Granddad: Am I not setting the bar too high for my granddaughter?
- Gym teacher Nabil: Viv is remarkably quiet during PE (physical education). How can I involve her more?
- Plus dad: What part do I play in Viv’s upbringing?
Experts highlight the importance of interplay of all participants in the education process. For example, the Belgian child psychiatrist prof. Peter Adriaenssens points out that raising a child becomes considerably easier when all people involved in it operate as a team (Adriaenssens, 2018). But how does one go about that, given the diversity in background and role of the members of the child’s educational network? How can educators be guided in their common aim to raise a particular child?
We brought together significant pedagogical approaches that have a positive effect on the educational process (Omer, 2011; Dweck, 2011; Webster Stratton, 2007), and visually represented them as the steps of a “pedagogical staircase”.
This pedagogical staircase has been thoroughly discussed with parents, teachers and people in the educational field and as a result of this further refined. It has also been tested in schools as a support tool during team meetings and parent-teacher conferences. Thus, the staircase has grown into an indispensable means of support for partners in the educational process of a child in finding a common language.
The consecutive “steps” of the “staircase” are the following:
Step 1: a warm and safe atmosphere
The first step, at the bottom of the stairs, is the most essential one. The presence of a warm and safe atmosphere is key to raising a child successfully. You can easily intensify the relationship with a child by listening to it; talking, playing and spending time with it; by being available for the child and giving it a sense of self-worth. Small things matter: the kindergarten teacher explicitly paying attention to Viv by hugging her, smiling at her, sharing a joyful moment with her (Klein, 2003). Playing a Relationship Game can similarly contribute to the child’s feeling of well-being: Viv feels appreciated by the teacher, who participates in the game, encourages the child and responds empathically (Vancraeyveldt et al., 2015). And why not ask Viv’s parents for tips and advice to strengthen her relationship with their toddler?
Step 2 : empathise
Empathising with a child is trying to figure out what it is trying to tell you with its behavior. Only if the gym teacher can find out what makes Viv so quiet in his lessons can he help her to deal with the problem. Has Viv been quarrelling with another child, is she afraid of the exercises or has she simply had a bad night? What does teacher Sarah think is the matter with Viv? When Viv’s mother realises that her daughter is merely tired at the end of a long day at school and needs some personal attention from her, she will have less difficulty responding appropriately to Viv’s behaviour.
Step 3: encourage and challenge
Educators need to be appreciative of a child’s efforts and positive behavior and encourage these in different ways. What comes naturally with a well-behaving child gets considerably more difficult in case of a child that repeatedly behaves disruptively. There is a danger of becoming blind for such a child’s occasional good behavior. From this perspective Viv’s mother might think of complimenting her daughter when she is playing silently even though she had a hard time getting her to do so. It is a way of letting Viv know that her good behaviour is appreciated ánd a more effective way to get her mum’s attention than whining.
A child’s behaviour does not need to be perfect to deserve recognition. Children should in fact be encouraged for any little progress they make in learning new behavior (Dweck, 2011). It will prevent them from giving up. Granddad does not set the bar too high when he expects five-year-old Viv to learn to ride a bike. At least not when he remembers to emphatically praise her small “victories” during the learning process. This will strengthen her confidence and make her unafraid of the challenge to master the art of bike riding without his help.
Step 4: structure
Structure is a key requirement in the process of raising a child. Routine and clear rules create transparency and predictability; both of which are essential in the creation of a secure environment for the child in which to grow up. Viv’s mother can “negotiate” an arrangement with her daughter that works for both: Viv plays on her own while mum is cooking supper and after the meal they will do something fun together. Call it “planned quality time”. Granddad need not worry that his granddaughter will stop loving him because he applies stricter rules than Viv’s father. Children have the general ability to cope with different rules and limits, irrespective of who lays them down or sets them. In order to ascend the “pedagogical staircase” successfully it is essential to be consistent in applying the rules and to not to skip any preceding “steps”.
Connectedness of the steps
It goes without saying that the “steps” are connected and do not work on their own. Transparent rules and predictability require but at the same time contribute to a positive and secure educational climate. Thoughtful but clear communication with children is an absolute condition for the staircase to be successfully “climbed”.
What about the topmost steps?
Education experts do not always see eye to eye with regard to the effectiveness of rewarding, ignoring, punishing, timeouts … With the visual representation of the pedagogical staircase we want to emphasize that these measures can be considered only when educators have sufficiently invested in trying to take the preceding steps. Should the occasion arise in which the aforementioned interventions are necessary their impact will be all the more effective and restorative when sparingly used.
On a final note …
There are ample ways of incorporating and implementing the “pedagogical staircase” in a school. It can be used as a conversation tool about educational topics during team meetings and/or as a means to demonstrate and explain the school’s educational views to the parents. The “staircase” can be given an actual place in the classroom and be referred to during formal and informal conversations about education with colleagues and parents.
Have you got any more ideas of how to use the “staircase”? We would be happy to hear about them!
- Adriaenssens, P. (2018). Verbolgen verbonden. Opgroeien in een complexe wereld. Tielt: Lannoo en De Standaard.
- Dweck, C. (2011). Mindset, de weg naar een succesvol leven. Amsterdam: SWP.
- Huyse, M. & Slaets, A. (2018). In dialoog over opvoeding. Opvoedingstrap: samen opvoeden. HJK, 46 (3), 22-25.
- Huyse, M. & Slaets, A. (2018). Van papa mag het wél! Over een zoektocht naar het gouden recept over samen opvoeden (Intern rapport). Leuven, UC Leuven-Limburg.
- Huyse, M., Vancraeyveldt, C., Bertrands, E., Vastmans, K., Borghgraef, F., Colpin, H., Verschuren, K., & Colpin, H. (2016). Samen-Spel in de klas. Kleuters & ik, 32 (4), 6-10.
- Klein, P. (2003). Early Intervention: Mediational Intervention for Sensitizing. Caregivers. New-York: Mc Graw Hill.
- Omer, H. (2011). Nieuwe autoriteit. Samen werken aan een krachtige opvoedingsstijl thuis, op school en in de samenleving. Amsterdam: Hogrefe Uitgevers BV.
- Snijder, L. (2018). Aan de slag met mindset. HJK, 45 (10), 10-13.
- Vancraeyveldt, C., Verschueren, K., Wouters, S., Craeyevelt, S., Noortgate, W., & Colpin, H. (2015). Improving teacher-child relationships and teacher-rated behavioral adjustment amongst externalizing preschoolers: Effects of a twocomponent intervention. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43 (2), 243-257.
- Webster-Stratton, C. (2007). Pittige jaren. Praktische gids bij het opvoeden van jonge kinderen. Houten: Bohn Stafleu van Loghum.
- Zeanah, C., Berlin, L., & Boris, N. (2011). Practitioner review: clinical applications of attachment theory and research for infants and young children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52 (8), 819-833.