As You Are

I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are

(from “I Like You As You Are”)

“I like you as you are” is one of the most salient messages educators name in discussions about how Fred Rogers’ work resonates with their practice. It’s a message their students need to hear. It’s a message their students’ families need to hear. And it’s a message that educators themselves need to hear.

As I think about this coming year with our brilliant and curious educators who are part of Educators’ Neighborhood, I am reflecting on this message—its theoretical, spiritual, and pedagogical foundations—and wondering what we might apply from its wisdom, and the wisdom of Fred Rogers, at this particular moment in time.

What’s resonating with me are the words: as you are. More than “I like you” or “You are special,” it’s the qualifier of “as you are” that feels of utmost importance right now. What might it mean to go into this school year as we are, invite all children and families to show up fully as they are, and ensure that in our learning spaces we mean what we say?: You belong here as you are.

These questions need wide-open, big-hearted, okay with not-knowing thoughtfulness. We’ll need to move beyond constructs of thinking that have created this present moment (full of dichotomies and divisions) to move into a future where being as you are becomes a lived reality for everyone (you = me = us). Cue the song “You’ve Got To Do It.” Follow it up with “I Love to Shine” and “Then Your Heart is Full of Love.”

As we consider these questions in our work contexts, it is important to note that the most significant place of practice is inside ourselves. Take time to:

  • Reflect on how you allow yourself to be (and not be) as you are. When and where do you feel congruent with what you say and how you feel on the inside? Do you force yourself to be positive when you feel frustrated or angry? Do you avoid boredom or sadness by filling the space with something else? Wonder why.
  • Notice when you feel triggered by something someone says or does or believes. When do you want to be right? When do you make others wrong? Can you find ways to see yourself in someone with whom you currently feel separate?
  • Listen for limiting stories being told about school/learning (“missed a year of learning,” “learning deficit,” “we should be teaching/doing __,” “huge gap,” “if only __,” “it’s all because of __”). Notice the stories you tell (and think), too.

We teach who we are. As Fred Rogers said, “Learning is caught, not taught.” Although it may seem like personal life is separate from professional life, who we are is not separate. How we allow ourselves to be (or not be) as we are, how we listen to and accept other people and ideas, how we frame and tell stories about what is present—all of this is what we mirror in our work. And children are particularly keen in their noticing of us.

In addition to self-reflection about how we see, talk about, feel, act, and allow ourselves to be who we are, it’s also important for us to ensure we take particular care this school year to design and plan in ways that support all children to come into our spaces as they are and be nurtured wholeheartedly as they are. Here are two essential layers for educators and caregivers to consider:

Be fully present.

  • Arrange for long stretches of time each day to be alongside children watching, listening, and accessible to them.
  • Allow all of what children say, feel, and know. Be curious about it. Look for more information. Don’t fix or shift or add to what children share too soon.
  • Be honest, allow yourself to not-know, and feel things alongside children. Your congruence in what you say/feel/are is important.

Allow for extended open-ended space.

  • Expand opportunities for make-believe play so children have spaciousness to overlap ideas, explore contradictions, unravel multiple understandings, and process all that has happened and is happening.
  • Integrate multiple artistic experiences into each day so children have robust opportunities to express ideas and feelings in ways beyond words (music, visual art, movement, drama, more).
  • Intentionally curate time for silence during each day so children have the space they need to be with themselves and be held/nurtured by their inner worlds.

We can look to Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for concrete examples of what this looks like in practice. Although there are more examples than can be named, here are a few:

  • Ways for children to talk about their fears with honesty, real-world connections, and multiple opportunities for make-believe: Episodes 1701-1705, from Helping, explore fear around vacuum cleaners; Episode 1669, from Then and Now, explores the death of a bird.
  • How to incorporate drawing as a vehicle for children’s expression: Many educators have found Episode 1646, from Imaginary Friends, and Episode 1185, to be inspiring for children to explore drawing music and also drawing feelings.
  • Awareness that what we don’t say and do is as (or more) important than what we do say and do: “Fred Rogers’ Methodology of Beingness”.
  • Finding ways to slow down, look, listen, and be with something (including yourself): Episode 1697, from Transformations, highlights a beautiful moment of noticing a plant and explores the idea further in Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Episode 1547, from Music, is the episode when after Fred visits Yo-Yo Ma in the studio, then comes home and lets us all sit with him in silence to remember the beautiful gift.

“As you are” is an instructive invitation to guide us towards collective grace, healing, and transformation. This school year is a beautiful opportunity for us to shift how teaching and learning operate in our schools and organizations. It’s my wish that we may share ourselves, reflect together, and grow beautiful conversations to find ways to embed and embolden “as you are” into the foundations of our teaching and learning spaces. I invite you to honestly explore your personal practice, talk with your colleagues, connect with Educators’ Neighborhood, speak, invent, play, share, and allow yourself to be more fully as you are in your work with children, families, educators, and communities.

 

Melissa A. Butler is the project lead of Educators’ Neighborhood with the Fred Rogers Center.

Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and her blog: Noticing Matters.

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