Don’t I mean CDC? Well, no. That’s not my department. I’m not a health expert, but I am pretty knowledgable about fourth graders, and what makes them tick. I’ve found that CQC is a valuable practice to help teachers and students feel valued, appreciated, and supported. Oh, and it’s free. It just costs time and patience.
I’m not sure where I first read about it, but CQC has become a treasured part of my classroom routine over the past two years. What is it? Nothing short of magic, in my opinion. But that doesn’t explain it, so here’s what I know about CQC.
First off, it stands for Celebrations, Questions, and Concerns. Every Friday morning I set aside time for CQC with my fourth grade students. They know it’s coming, and they value this time. In fact, on the very last day of school last year they begged to do a final CQC, so we sat in the shade of an old tree on the playground and shared little pieces of ourselves for the last time as a group.
What CQC does is give us all a platform where we can see and be seen by our community. We listen to each other, and often we find that others have experiences similar to ours.
During CQC we all sit in more or less a circle, where we can all see and hear each other. I go around and ask each child if they have something to say. Kids who are a little more shy will often respond if they are directly invited into the conversation, but nobody is forced to speak. Kids say their bit, and I respond.
It’s not exactly a class discussion. It’s generally a short exchange between the student and me, where everyone else is invited in to listen. I model appropriate responses, respectful listening, and fairness. Later, they can have conversations with each other about what they heard during CQC.
We always start with the positive. Celebrations frequently involve birthdays (our own, our mom’s, our hamster’s…) but there are lots of other celebrations too. We’re particularly proud of achievements, as we should be. We’ve had kids earn belts in martial arts, conquer difficult math concepts, learn to do skateboard tricks, and complete 5K runs. Kids score soccer goals, finish long books, learn to dive into swimming pools, complete massive Lego models, and finally beat their older brothers in a video game. These are important moments to kids, and they deserve to have their moment. Who doesn’t want others to affirm us?
Then we move on to the questions. Oh, the questions. Many of them are personal questions for me. I always reserve the right to tell kids if a question is too personal (which rarely happens). Usually they ask things like, “What’s your favorite animal?” And usually someone else already knows the answer, because it’s been asked before.
Then there are the questions meant to stump me. I simply tell them I don’t know. These are usually questions of theology or science. They don’t really want the answer, they want to know what I’ll say. Often I’ll say, “I don’t know. That would be an interesting question to discuss at home with your family.”
And naturally there are also the real questions. Often these are school related, about schedules or field trips or why we do things a certain way. These are good for me to hear, so I know what kids are wondering or have misconceptions about. Often kids just want to understand why things are as they are, and this gives me an opportunity to help them understand. Sometimes they ask a question that makes me rethink something we’re doing, and sometimes I make a change based on our discussion.
After the questions we make time for concerns. As an educator you have to be very careful with concerns. You have to listen objectively, and reassure kids in a way that is caring, and nonjudgmental. You also have to let kids know you’re there to help them if they need help, but sometimes they might want to share their concerns privately. You are, as an educator, a mandated reporter if a child reveals to you that he or she is in danger.
The concerns they share most are concerns about pets. I listen. I affirm that what they’re saying sounds concerning (unless it’s something mild, then I tell them I believe it’s mild), and I usually tell them to ask an adult at home about it. Often the situation is already being dealt with, so I can say, “I understand why you’re concerned. It sounds like your parent (caregiver) is taking care of this situation.” When pets die, and they will, I tell them that I’ve felt the sadness of losing a pet too. I also tell them that it’s normal to feel sad when someone or something we care about comes to the end of their life, and how it sometimes feels unfair that their lifespans aren’t as long as we would like them to be.
Some of the concerns may make you feel uncomfortable. One of my students last year had an uncle who died by suicide, and she was devastated. I had spoken with her mother, and had private conversations with her, but she didn’t speak to any of her peers about it. At least not until about a month later. Then, at CQC, she told her classmates that he had died, and that he had taken his own life. Every child in that room felt for her. There were tears and hugs and that child felt how much we loved and supported her as she worked through her pain and grief.
Why do I do CQC? I do it so every child feels heard. We learn about each other’s strengths, each other’s achievements, and each other’s worries. We learn to trust one another and we have a safe place to share what’s on our minds. We lift each other up, and we become so much closer as a result.
One thing I will always remember about this Corona Virus pandemic is the fact that it was a topic of CQC long before schools closed. Even before the first fatality was announced in the United States, I had a little girl who was concerned about it. Each week, for several weeks, she brought it up. It seemed far away, and not very likely to have much effect on us, but still I addressed her concerns with care, each time she shared them.
I didn’t tell her don’t worry about it. I didn’t tell her it was nothing. What I told her was that I had heard it was pretty bad, too, but I didn’t think it was currently a problem in the United States. Even so, I said, I am not able to predict the future. I also told her that it was a good idea for all of us to make sure we’re washing our hands appropriately, coughing and sneezing into our elbows, and wiping down our classroom regularly. No panic, just action.
Well darned if that little kiddo wasn’t right to be worried. And I can tell you, every single one of my students knew ahead of time that it was something bad and it was likely heading our way. Why? We talked about it. Not with hysteria, but with the facts as we knew them. Knowledge gives us power, and I’d like to think my students were a tiny bit more able to handle the subsequent school shut down as a result of those talks weeks before it happened.
Now we’re online, and it’s Friday again, and this morning we did CQC. It’s somebody’s grandma’s birthday, and they’re going to do a drive-by. Some else is missing out on a trip to Disneyland. Another is feeling sad for his brother, who will be missing his high school graduation. The celebrations still exist, but they’re different. The questions have a lot to do with when school will open and what it will be like and whether they’ll be prepared for fifth grade. And the concerns? Well, they’re not so different from yours and mine.