The Value of Educators’ Relationships with One Another
School is a place of great social potential – a place where children learn how to be with other people, how to communicate, and how to be themselves in relation to others. For very young children, this kind of learning comes naturally. From birth and throughout the period of early childhood, children are eager to learn more about the world around them, and this eagerness originates with their own desire to know not only themselves but also others. This desire to know about people is key to human development. As I considered this desire, I am reminded of the many research studies that consistently demonstrate how infants respond most readily to the faces and facial expressions of their fellow human beings. To me, this evidence of young children’s efforts to understand their fellow humans says something of real value about learning and the human condition. It also has important implications for how we behave as educators. I believe that in order for educators to support children in developing healthy, strong social relationships, educators themselves must be willing to constantly undergo their own processes of growth and development within their relationships with one another.
In order for schools to reach their social potential, they must focus on people and their relationships with one another first—children, parents, and teachers alike. We have to build trust, foster independence, create ownership, and develop understanding among one another. This is much easier said than done. People are complicated. We all come with different pasts, thoughts, and ideas. Luckily, people are my passion. I love learning about others and what makes them tick. I have noticed in my life that the more I know about someone, the more compassion and understanding I have for them and in the work place that can go a long way. Don’t get me wrong; I do believe that people should be held accountable for their actions, but since I have been in charge of personnel I have noticed more times than not that any challenges we have can be easily settled through good communication and problem solving.
Children deserve to be supported around relationships and communication in their daily lives at school. If we as adults haven’t developed strategies for working together how can we model that for children? The leadership team at The Nest (Mandy, Teresa, and Kristi) thought very often over the last three years about how to support the development of strong relationships between teachers. As a strategy to support these kinds of relationships among teachers, the leadership team decided to begin a tradition: to hold an annual retreat for its educators. In August 2013, The Nest had its very first retreat.
In anticipation of the retreat, we created a healthy “to do” list; at the top of this list was evolving into a team of educators who care about and are connected to one another in authentic, meaningful ways. The leadership team knew from past experiences that in order to have a strong team we must know each other first. We realize that this takes time, but we feel that a retreat is the perfect way to build a strong foundation for our relationships. During the retreat, we had the typical ice breakers intermittently dispersed through our weekend agenda and quickly discovered that the best way to get to know one another is just to be together—relaxing, enjoying a drink, cooking, eating, crafting, and playing games.
At the end of the retreat, we invited our teachers to share their written reflections on the retreat. Here are some of the comments The Nest teachers shared:
Lindsay (afternoon multi-age teacher): “The time spent together-only with our staff and away from the usual distractions of home-was very valuable for both kick-starting and strengthening our understanding of each other and our intentions for our school this year. Casual gaming and crafting time was just as valuable as the more organized planning time for team building and I’m very happy with the way our time here was evenly balanced between them-the logical and the creative aspects of our work together. It was good that we all valued strengthening both.”
Kalei (afternoon toddler teacher): “It allowed me to meet my coworkers in a different, more dynamic and less stressful environment. Now I don’t just know them within the context of the classroom but who they are as a fully fleshed adult person. I feel much more confident about the school year now that I have a better glimpse on who and where I’m working.”
Caroline (multi-age teacher): “I think a big part of team-building is just letting loose, playing games, and laughing with one’s co-workers.”
Keli (infant teacher): “We opened up to each other about personal issues and I felt a connection that I had not felt before.”
Shana (infant teacher): “I loved that there was time designated for work and for play and the atmosphere was comfortable. That was what gave us the opportunity to grow closer to each other in unlikely moments.”
In the coming school year, I plan to pay special attention to the ways in which the positive relationships that were nurtured at the retreat between adults might become a catalyst to strengthen and support children’s relationships. During our time together at the retreat, Nest educators made a strong commitment to connecting with and building relationships with parents in the coming year. I hope that when children see adults engaged in friendly, supportive relationships with one another they will experience the good feelings that come from those relationships. I also hope that adults at the school can continue to make ongoing efforts to strengthen our relationships and will continue to develop in a team in which everyone feels they have an important voice in the school.