Updated: Jan 9, 2020
In the middle of my daughter’s 2nd grade school year, we moved from Seattle, Washington to Zurich, Switzerland. None of us spoke German and we knew we were in for a big change. However, our daughter was the recipient of the biggest challenge. Her typical seven hour school days were cut in half and she attended only one class per day: German as a Second Language. The students in the class were from many different countries and had been living in our village of 20,000 people for varying amounts of time. The teacher was a veteran teacher and in our first meeting, informed us that she would only be teaching for one more year and then retiring.
The first challenge to overcome was walking to school. At my daughter’s previous school outside of Seattle, she was not allowed to walk or ride a bike to school as there was an elaborate car drop off system which we had to endure twice daily. In Switzerland, children walk to school, on their own, from kindergarten age. The youngest children wear a reflective yellow sash during their walk so their erratic movements can easily be seen. My husband and I were very supportive of this system as we understood it was going to build independence, more interaction with local children, and a good amount of daily walking.
The first week of school we planned to walk to and from school together and I had my daughter lead the way after she felt comfortable. On the third day of school, I was met at the door of the classroom by the German teacher and informed that a second grader was completely capable of walking to school alone. Fair enough, we all wanted her to walk on her own, but also wanted to make sure she was comfortable. Before leaving the school that day, my daughter and I agreed that she would walk home on her own.
School let out at 11:50 and I expectantly waited on the balcony overlooking the street and sidewalk. 12:10 came and went and at 12:15 I set out onto the path to school. Just a few minutes later I caught a glimpse of my daughter standing at the corner by the city pool looking around in all directions. I started to walk faster and called out her name. She quickly swiveled around and started running toward me. After a big hug and the drying of some tears, she was able to tell me that she had lost her way. With a tight grip on my hand, we continued the walk home together. She was upset that she couldn’t remember the way home, but she was equally motivated to make it work tomorrow.
While we ate lunch she told me about a situation in the classroom where the teacher had yelled at a student which was sitting next to her and then grabbed his hair to direct his head toward his work on his desk. After I had lifted my gaping jaw off the floor, I asked her if she was sure this is what she’d seen. She was sure, but wanted to be most sure that she was never the recipient of the teacher’s unhappiness in the future! She was clearly scared of the teacher. I wanted to steer the conversation into a more positive place, so I asked her more questions about what she was learning, friends, etc, but in the back of my mind I was still trying to get the visual of the teacher out of my head.
The next morning, our 2nd grader was convinced that she could walk both to and from school on her own. She knew where she had gone wrong on the walk home the day before and she wasn’t going to let it happen again! I was proud of her determination, but nervous for her as well. The morning came and went and I found myself out on the balcony looking for the first glimpse of her. She proudly strode along the sidewalk at the appropriate time and waved at me as soon as she saw me.
This contentious relationship in the German classroom was reported everyday and her opinion of the teacher continued to sour. However, her German was improving and she was learning a tremendous amount very quickly. In order to keep the learning curve climbing, I tried to help her focus on the positives rather than the negative relationship she was observing between the teacher and student (a little bit later, I spoke to the parent of the child in question as well as the teacher).
I decided we should put the Rose and Thorn strategy into practice. The idea of the Rose and Thorn is that when she returned home from school, she would tell me one positive (Rose) and one negative (Thorn) about the day. Keeping her focused equally on the positive and negative interactions of the day seemed to help her realize that there were many good things going on in the classroom and not just the bad. It also ensured that the conversation had a beginning and an end.
Listening to your children about their school day is very important, but it is equally important to not dwell on the negative. This negative talk can influence future interactions and experiences at school. On the other hand, positive conversations about school can also be influential. Working hard to avoid negative talk about both teachers and students is also important. It is our job as parents to validate our children’s feelings, but also to help steer those feelings in a positive direction.
Thankfully the school walk continued to be a Rose on the daily list and many more Roses popped up. The Thorns varied, but also seemed more manageable when balanced by the Roses. I use this method frequently with students who struggle to convey the positive moments in their school day upon returning home. A half sheet of paper is divided into a T chart and students can take a couple minutes to reflect on the school day before heading home. This T chart services as a jumping off point for positive home conversations.
April Remfrey is an American special education consultant living and loving life in Switzerland. Please feel free to use or link to this blog post by giving credit to the author and her website: www.remfreyeducationalconsulting.com