When it comes to raising children, sometimes you don't have to say a word. Modeling behavior can sometimes be the strongest way to teach. We sat down with Primary teacher Sharmila Rawal to talk about modeling, why it's important and how it occurs naturally not just in the Whitby classroom, but in our everyday lives.
It's definitely not the catwalk. I think a good explanation would be what a grownup does, rather than what they say.
Joshua Aromin: How would you explain what modeling is?
Sharmila Rawal: It's definitely not the catwalk. I think a good explanation would be what a grownup does, rather than what they say. Actions speak louder than words. It's a cliché, but I definitely believe that if you are acting a certain way, children emulate you. I feel that we have a huge responsibility, especially since we have the very young ones, to behave in a way that we want them to behave, and that is what I think of as modeling.
JA: Where does modeling come from, that concept or idea of modeling?
SR: It's a very, very old idea that Maria Montessori thought of. She was way ahead of her time when she was thinking about modeling and she was teaching children and she observed in Italy many, many years ago that children copied everything she did, and she thought that this was a wonderful concept and a wonderful way of teaching them without using words. A lot of the Montessori lessons are actually done without the use of words, and the child is watching you and focusing more on what you're doing and not zoning you out when you're talking to them.
JA: How does that works in the classroom?
SR: It works in many different ways. I think it works when we're all sitting at circle as a community; we model how we sit, how we interrupt, how we raise a quiet hand, because we teach respect that way too. If we're all talking at the same time, we can't all be heard.
We're talking about, "How do you think we can do this? How can we solve this problem? Because you're all adding such valuable content, but I can't hear any of you." Then they'll say, "Let's raise a quiet hand." If a teacher does this, sometimes when we're all sitting at the circle, one of the teachers will raise their hand. In the beginning of the school year it's very, very important that we model the right way of talking to each other. For example, we speak to each other in a very respectful manner. We wait, the hand on the shoulder, the older kids model this for the younger kids. It's not just the teachers, but it's our Primary 3 students who've been in a classroom for three years. It's very powerful.
JA: What would you tell a parent who would like to practice this outside of the classroom?
SR: Sometimes we're all busy doing what we're doing, it's very easy to say something to a child. But children have a way of zoning us out because we're always talking to them. For example, when you're driving in the car, don't text and drive, be focused on what you're doing because when your child is ready to learn to drive, they'll be following what you've modeled for them all these years.
It's something that I experienced with my own daughter. I was very, very concerned about her learning to drive. As a mother, you're worried because you know that there are very mad people on the road, so you think, "Oh my goodness, how is she going to navigate all of that?" But I took a deep breath, and my husband and I felt a sigh of relief because she drove like us. Thankfully we stopped at all the stop signs and we weren't on our phones, we never texted and drove, and I think it was a much more powerful message for her than us telling her, "Don't be doing this, don't do that." It's something that we did over so many years.
JA: It's interesting that modeling is not something just specific to the age group that you teach. How old are the kids that you have in class?
SR: They range from age three (first years) to age six (third years). It's not just the teachers and the grownups, it happens within the class. We see the fruits of our labor in the third years so to speak, because they are teaching the first years what to do and it's not something that we have to tell them to teach, it just comes intrinsically within them. They'll say, "No, let me show you how to do this." Or, if they're coloring, they'll come and sit next to a first year and they'll start doing and then I see the children observing them.
I didn't realize how powerful it was until I actually saw it in action. Being a Montessori teacher, that just was amazing for me to watch. We talk about a classroom normalizing in the first few months of the classroom and it comes from our third years, our role models, our leaders, our mentors in the classroom, and we always talk about that.
We talk about the pen is mightier than the sword. We have all these clichés, but modeling being a cliché is such a powerful one, and people should know that they don't have to talk all the time. I love talking but sometimes when I give a lesson, the children will be so mesmerized they will spontaneously clap once the lesson is over because all they've been doing is observing how I do things.
JA: You mentioned that the older students start to model as well. Is that something that you do anything to encourage that or is it kind of organic, where they do it anyway?
SR: No, it's very organic. The older kids learn from being models as well. For example, you're a third year and you're sitting next to a first year and you behave inappropriately at circle time. You watch how many people will copy you and it's not the right modeling behavior. It's a powerful tool because you don't even need to say anything to the third years. Sometimes they look at you and they notice what's happened, and it's not what we want in the classroom, so we don't even need to say anything and now when we talk about the third years and their roles and their responsibilities and we ask them, "What's so important?" The children themselves will say, "So-and-so copied me when I did this." And we don't need to say anything. But I think it's a cycle of being in the classroom and observing that brings them to that point, not necessarily us speaking overtime.
JA: And just to counter that, at what point would you have to step in to say something?
SR: If that behavior continues, and the third year hasn't noticed the power of that negative behavior, then we will draw them aside and we'll say, "Did you see how so-and-so copied what you were doing and is that what we want them to learn?" And immediately they will realize. Sometimes during single subjects, we're much stricter with the classroom because our teachers only have half an hour with the kids and we want them to learn as much as possible, so that's when we would step in.
JA: Any last thoughts about modeling?
SR: It is the most powerful tool that we have in our parenting tool belt because you don't need to do anything. You just need to think about, "How do I want this child to be? Do I want them to see me pushing at the checkout line? Do I want them to see me being polite, being respectful?"