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Sara and her mentor disagree

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Sara’s school requires a dress code for all students. During the morning routine in her kindergarten class, she often plays a game where she asks all students to stand. She then picks out different parts of the uniform and asks students to sit down if they are not wearing the chosen item. For instance, she might ask all children not wearing white or blue shirts to sit down. She then chooses her daily helper from the children left standing. One day she asked all children wearing tennis shoes to sit down. Yolanda began to cry. Sara heard her say to her neighbor, “I told my mom I needed dress shoes.” This incident made Sara wonder if Yolanda owned dress shoes. She began to think about the parents’ role in getting their children ready for school each morning and wondered if she needed to create a more welcoming morning routine.

The connection Sara makes from Yolanda’s tears to a larger issue in her classroom makes this a "critical incident"--an incident with special significance. If Sara had gone to her mentor saying that a child had cried that day and she had felt bad about it, the conversation probably would have been quite different.

At their weekly meeting, Sara brought this issue up with her mentor, Deb. Deb clucked sympathetically about Yolanda and said she often felt bad that their kids had so little. Sara said she was beginning to think that requiring such strict uniforms was a bad idea. Here Deb emotionally identifies with Sara by showing that she often feels the same way. However, when Sara uses this feeling to make an argument, Deb disagrees.

Deb said, “But you should have been here before we had uniforms. The kids without much really had a hard time then.”

Sara argued, “But now I’m the teacher and I’m making them feel bad about their clothes. That has to be worse.”

Deb shook her head knowingly. “You don’t know how cruel kids can be.”

Deb reminds Sara that she has been in the school longer and suggests that Sara is still naive about children. Sara and Deb do not agree. Sara rejects Deb's move and directs the conversation toward her classroom routines.

Sara said that maybe that was true, but she still wanted to change her opening routine. Deb said she would be happy to help her come up with some new activities. Deb also suggested that whatever system Sara used, she make sure that each child got to be the helper at least once before starting over.

“That way,” Deb said, “at least Yolanda will know that eventually it will be her turn.”

Deb offers to help Sara meet her goal; thus silently agreeing to table the argument. During this discussion, Deb subtly presents another hypothesis for Sara to consider: that Yolanda was upset not because she didn’t have dress shoes, but because she thought she’d never get a chance to be the helper.