I became a better educator once I potty trained my son

One of the “rites of passage” as a young parent is the experience of potty training. It is a necessary skill for young children (and parents who pay for diapers) to learn prior to attending preschool. If you’ve been through it, then you know that it can be a time consuming and frustrating process.

You want them to do it. They have no idea what you want them to do. You get upset. They don’t take it seriously. You are completely invested in them learning this new skill. They might think that this is a game. In the end, the parent is left with the notion that they have failed and this child will never go to the restroom by themselves. And yes, you know that eventually they will do it on their own. So you ask yourself: What can you do to help them achieve this goal…soon? Have other parents used strategies that were successful?

This entire experience can be transferred to the classroom.

As a young teacher, I remember being frustrated when my students didn’t understand a lesson I taught. I thought I had done a good job with my power point, my pictures, and my worksheets. You know what I mean? I told them. I showed them. Why didn’t they remember? Why didn’t they get it?

When teaching (and potty training), we must remember a few things: (1) repetition is the key to learning (2) the learner has to understand the objective of the task they are being asked to do and (3) the teacher and the learner must have a positive connection – a relationship – in order for the learner to become invested in the task at hand.

(1) Repetition is the key. In potty training, it takes days and sometimes weeks to train a toddler on the finer points of using the restroom on their own. Parents employ several strategies to help the process move along. Some of these strategies are placing a target in the toilet for “target practice”, providing a treat or candy each time the youngster make a deposit or even giving them a glimpse into the world of “big boy/girl” undergarments to show them what success looks like. In the classroom, we should do the same things. We need to engage them in the process in multiple ways, multiple times. We should provide positive reinforcement each time a student tries a new skill or task even if they are unsuccessful – keep encouraging them. Lastly, we should show them what excellence looks like. We need to expose them to what the future holds for them once they put in the work to achieve the skill. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

(2) Understanding the objective. When preparing to potty train a toddler, the adult must remember that the child has more than likely never experienced nor seen this event in their short lifetime. They may not get what you are asking them to do. We model the task for them and they still may not truly understand what is expected of them. In the classroom, teachers and student experience the same phenomena. Teachers should post and explain the objective for the lesson every day. It is imperative that students have a road map for success with the teacher in the driver’s seat. It is not sufficient for an educator to give students a worksheet and then tell them to get to work. The lesson should begin with a clear statement of what is to be achieved along with an “instructional conversation” about how this lesson connects to the bigger picture of the curriculum.

(3) Relationships. Potty training can be a positive experience as long as the adult remains focused on the child and not the event. In my experience, the child needs frequent reminders and encouragement to get into a routine of going to the restroom on their own. As the parent, I had to understand that this is just one event in my child’s life. This was one of many opportunities I would have to help my child make a transition from one stage in life to another. In the end, I wanted my child to be a positive participant in the “potty process”. I did not want him to see my frustration or anger at the fact that he wasn’t achieving this goal fast enough for me. Teachers have to maintain the same mentality in the classroom. Learning is about the learner. We should make sure our students see that we believe in them. Adults can make connections with students through open dialogue and daily interactions. They should not see the frustration we sometimes feel when they don’t master a concept the first time we assess them on it. Providing positive support and constructive feedback can help a learner move from a state of intense confusion to inspired curricular bliss.

Eventually, my son got it done. He achieved his goal. It took many weeks of tears (mine, not his), but he triumphed! The same concept applies in the educational setting. Educators have to provide multiple practice opportunities for students to learn a new skill. The repetitive use of multiple strategies helps to ensure that something will stick with ALL learners. Having a clearly stated objective each day helps learners and teachers stay focused and moving in the same direction. Lastly, building positive rapport and relationships with students helps the learner invest in their own learning.


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