Recently, I gave up a bad habit; one that was draining my time and energy. I gave up the habit of insisting that my socks match. I have discovered the joy of wearing mismatched socks. It is so liberating to just grab two socks and walk out the door. And, don’t get me started on the time I save when I get the laundry out of the dryer.

While this seems like such a simple matter, it did get me thinking a lot about rules we allow to govern our lives. Of course, there are times that rules are needed;

·       To protect the health & safety of ourselves and others: It is a good rule that we not be allowed to interact with screens while driving. I have recently redoubled my efforts to ignore that text, that call, or whatever else calls my attention while driving. There is a young man, the son of a woman I greatly admire, who is clinging to life because he was in the backseat of a car that was rear ended by a distracted driver.

Rules about safety are important and we should all agree to follow them.


·       To be a good community member: We share this planet with many others and some rules or norms of behavior make it easier for us to live together. It may not be because of safety that we ask people to stand in lines and wait their turns in grocery stores; but chaos might ensue and life would be more complicated if people did not abide by this behavioral norm.


·       To be kind: Another category of rules are those that guide us in how to treat others and to be a good neighbor to other humans. Some social norms are not about safety or community living, they are just about being polite to another. Saying “thank you” or “please” fall into this ilk. These are about being kind to others and in some ways are a subset of the previous category and both of these groups are very influenced by culture.

If a rule by which we govern our lives does not fall into one of these three categories, is it really worth living by? That is the lens by which I have been examining my life lately. It has also got me thinking a lot about unspoken rules and how they shape our lives. Think about it – probably many of you are much more dedicated to following the rule about wearing socks that match than on the one that prohibits sneaking a peek at that device at a light or when the road seems clear. But, we can probably all agree on which rule is more important and is more likely to keep all of us safe.

As teachers, we should take this lens into our classrooms. We have a duty to consistently review our rules and make sure we are not spending a lot of time and energy enforcing rules that are based on inappropriate expectations or that result from a need of power. So often, posted rules start with expectations that children have “listening ears” or “raise a hand before speaking”. Are these more important than “keep yourself and others safe” or “be kind to others”?

As teachers, our ultimate goal is to support young children is to support children’s learning and development; including an understanding of what it means to share a community with others.

Rules are powerful forces; you can’t imagine how many people are dumbfounded when they find out I don’t care about matching socks. “But”, they sputter, “socks have to match. Everyone knows that”. I smile and simply reply, “why?”, to which there is rarely an adequate response. I am sure some think I am eccentric or lazy, but I have just chosen to direct my energy on stuff I think really matters.

For educators, we are quickly approaching our New Year; when children return to classrooms or transition to new ones. Many teachers start off the year by creating rules to help children understand behavioral expectations. My challenge to you this year is to look at these rules through this lens and before posting a rule or holding children to a norm you ask yourself “why” or “why not”. You can redirect the energy and time you spent on enforcing this rule to something more positive; like creating fun and wonder for the children in your classroom.

What do you think? Engage with me and others in the ECE community on my social media outlets. You can also find more information about my book and available training sessions, on any of the following:

Facebook: Teacher as Gardener

LinkedIn: Michelle Salcedo

My book, Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behaviors, can be purchased at Amazon or Free Spirit Publishing

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