If you have ever been on a school playground with a bunch of first graders, you noticed something right away. 6-year-olds are social creatures—highly verbal—but they have not yet learned to settle their differences without adult intervention.
When I was a first grade teacher, in one of my many former lives, I saw a certain pattern of behavior at recess time. One kid would break a rule and another kid would run up and, with that highly acute sense of justice only 6-year-olds have, blow the whistle on him.
And the line before me would grow longer as they waited for their turn to spill the dirt on someone.
“Joey took my four-square ball away!”
“Grace pushed me off the climbing bars!”
“Jill cut in line!”
About my third year of teaching (I was a reasonably patient person), the finger pointing started to get to me. I began to dread it every time I was on playground duty. I had become the police. Writing tickets. Scolding. Letting them off with a warning if they promised not to do it again.
Recess was hell.
Until I got an idea
One day I came up with an ingenious rule. I called my students over to the carpet for a class talk. They sat in a circle, cross-legged, with curious looks on their faces.
“We have a new rule on the playground,” I said. “Starting today, if you want to report something bad someone did at recess, that’s okay.”
“But first, you have to say something good. Something you like about them.”
They nodded their heads solemnly. And they went back to their seats, back to their math lesson on place value.
Fast forward to the playground, the next day
The very next day, at morning recess, Josh ran up to me, all red-faced. He looked at me, brows all furrowed, his mouth a hyphen. “Nate hit me in the—”
“Wait,” I said. “Remember? I need to hear one good thing about Nate first.”
I smiled and thought, I have him now.
Josh looked across the playfield, then back at me. “But—”
“Just one good thing. Then you can tell me the bad thing.”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He frowned. We stood knee-deep in the silence. He looked down and scuffed the toes of his shoe on the pavement.
“Well…uh…oh…” Another long pause as he turned things over in his mind. He let out a big sigh. “Never mind.” And he ran back to the group of boys across the playground.
From that day on, the tide turned. Why? Because those first graders had discovered something. It’s easier to point out what someone is doing wrong than to recognize what they are doing right.
It gets even better
As I worked with these kids during the year, I saw growth. At first they would say, “Jennifer is nice. But she cut in front of me in the drinking fountain line.”
Then, as we practiced more in the classroom, they began to understand that “You are nice” doesn’t really mean anything at all. It especially hit home when a child with a birthday got 27 letters written in large, clumsy print that said, “I like you. You are nice.”
Over time, as I worked with them, (“Why are they nice? What do you like about them?), they began to write funny, engaging, heartfelt letters. We would read the letters in the afternoon and often the “I like you because…” letters would spark a lively discussion.
“I didn’t know Jeremy could make a spoon stick to his nose!”
(Okay, sometimes the comments got a little weird. No accounting for things that will impress a first grader.)
Our blogging takeaway
One thing I am sure of. I don’t know what kind of adults these kids turned to to be, what jobs they are in today, but I bet they are very good at commenting on blogs.
We are more like 6-year-olds than we think.
They had a hard time with specific, detailed, meaningful messaging. And so do 37-year-olds. And 57-year-olds. But over time, with a little thought, those kids figured out what they wanted to say—and even started having fun with it.
And we can, too. With a little thought, “Nice blog” becomes a sentence or two that gives people specific, actionable feedback that tells them what they are doing right—what you enjoy about them and their blog, so they can do more of it.
Your assignment, if you choose to take it
I’m throwing this out to you. You can choose to keep it or throw it back. Many fine bloggers toil away, unrecognized for the talents they share with us. In the comments below, tell us about one blog you read and why you like it. Leave a link if you wish, so we can all check it out.
But, here’s the catch: You can’t use the word nice or great or awesome. In fact, it’s better if you don’t use any adjectives at all. And it’s probably good to stay on topic. The blogger will appreciate that.
That means no random comments about the blogger’s ability to make a spoon stick to their nose. Unless, the blog is called Lunchroom Tips and Tricks. Then it might fit.
I read The JackB blog for his humanity and his stories that make me snort—but not while drinking coffee because I’ve already ruined one keyboard.
What about you?
Which one of your favorite blogs do you want to tell us about?