Looking at Teaching Through the Lens of Simple Interactions

Simple Interactions is a practice-based, strengths-focused, and community-driven approach to support caregivers who serve children, youth, and families. The Simple Interactions Tool, created by Junlei Li, the Saul Zaentz Senior Lecturer of Early Childhood Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, provides a common, descriptive language to talk about interactions in practice. The tool is made up of four dimensions: Connection, Reciprocity, Inclusion, and Opportunity to Grow.

You can learn more about this work at www.simpleinteractions.org.

The High Quality Early Learning Project has had the good fortune to connect and collaborate with the work of Simple Interactions. The video clips below, excerpted from our “Going to School During the COVID-19 Pandemic” study, are introduced in the text by Dr. Li to illustrate the dimensions of the Simple Interactions Tool in action. We share them to demonstrate how even during great challenges and constraints, as were imposed by the pandemic, caring educators can interact with children in supportive and educative ways.  

As you review Dr. Li’s commentaries about the clips below, see if you can find examples of the 4 dimensions of Simple Interactions: Connection, Reciprocity, Inclusion, and Opportunity to Grow.

Dr. Li’s Commentary

The normalcy of quiet interactions continues despite the masks – for the child and for the teacher. The interactions remind me of the “Banking Time” studies for stressed children. Particularly striking is how the teacher spends time with children who are “ready to play”, and nudges and waits patiently for the little boy who is reluctant to choose and engage.


You Don’t Wanna Make a Choice Right Now

Nudging a Child to Choose a Play

Finding Choices

I Got It

Dr. Li’s Commentary

Juggling a screen and a mix of virtual/in-person modes, the interactions and connections nevertheless go on. Children and teachers adapt and engage. Virtual teacher names something in the room (Sunshine), and children name and notice something in the virtual teacher’s turtle.

Orienting to Teacher / Friends on the Screen

We Are the Sunshines!

Rub Our Hands Together, Take a Deep Breath

Being Turtles

These clips demonstrate small moments of the kind of caring, reciprocal relationships that neuroscience advises are protective factors against stressors and that support children’s optimal development (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2021).