Any teacher of any grade level would agree that we have all heard "that is so unfair" a million times! I always hate when my students say this, but I also understand from their lens, their point of view, and their age of development, fair is a big deal! It is also a totally natural emotion for our little friends to feel and notice when things seem a little unfair. As a result, I begin laying the foundation within the first few days of school that fair doesn't mean equal, and what is fair in our classroom is making sure that everyone gets exactly what they need to be successful.
A Story of Band Aids, Tooth Holders, and Ambulances...
Within the first couple of days of school, usually among hearing the typical "that's so unfair" I roll out my classic injury story. To help show the students that fair does not mean equal, I tell a funny, pretend story about how 3 first graders are playing on the playground and get hurt. I love picking students in the class, usually my fair police, to play the parts of our very injured students. I explain to the students that each of the three students has come to me with an injury from playing on the play ground. One student has lost a tooth, one student has scraped their knee, and one student has fallen off the monkey bars and seems to have broken their arm. I then explain that if fair means equal, it also means that each of the 3 students will be getting the same thing from me, clearly a tooth box will be perfect for the lost tooth, scraped knee, and broken arm. At this point, the students become very giggly because it is just down right silly that I would even suggest that a broken arm would be healed with a tooth box. As they giggle, I then decide that clearly that is not the right treatment so maybe a band aid would work for all three. Again, giggles usually erupt, so I finally suggest that clearly the broken arm needs to go to the hospital, so I might as well just send all 3 students to the hospital. By this time, my first graders are very giggly at the thought that all three students would be getting the exact same thing. This then leads us into a great conversation about how what each person needs is important but very different.
Applying it to Our Classroom
After we have some great giggles, we then talk about what this means in the day to day work we do in our classroom. We talk about how some friends need certain things to help and support them, while others might not need those same things. Then we talk about how my job and goal as a teacher is to give each student exactly what they need to be successful, even if it means that only one or two students need that support. By this point in the school year, 7 week in, we have students who are using fidgets on the carpet, chewing gum for a sensory issues, eating snacks more frequently than others, working without a chair, the list goes on and on, without other students even thinking twice about those things being "unfair". We have set the norm and expectation from the first few days of school that fair isn't about being equal, it is about each person getting what they need to be successful.