Sunday, January 24, 2016

We Teach Relationships, Through Relationships

I actually wrote this piece last year in October. There was actually a great deal of reflecting upon  relationships. In fact I could add to it almost every day!

I am using it now following on from my piece about Belonging. I think they do fit and flow together a fair bit.


I've been pondering relationships with children. Its actually something that I have been thinking about since the start of last year and moments have come up since then that really highlight the importance of relationships. Without relationships we cannot be educators. Children need to trust you – trust you to care for them – trust you to have their best interests at heart – trust you to tell them and teach them the truth.

Relationships are central to our work as educators. Our relationships with the children, their families, our peer colleagues, and yes our managers. These relationships have the power to help us soar, or sink; work in harmony or misery.

I was sitting in my office reading a Teacher Tom article which touched on relationships. One of my Korean contingent came to little school. She arrived with her father who called out 'good morning' and I called out a 'good morning' back. Miss Y came running around the hallway to smile, say good morning in English and then greet me in Korean with a bow. An-Ya-Ah-Sey-Yo I said back as she threw herself into me for a morning hug. I am not their 'teacher' … I am the manager of a service with limited time with these children, yet my interactions have nurtured these relationships.

How we engage with children is CRITICAL. It does not matter the time, the quality of those interactions is what matters. Teacher Tom, in "Icelandic Fairies" was yet another reminder of this – he connected with children in brief moments without a shared language and he was overwhelmed with emotions.

I've always had fabulous relationships with children. I'm not bragging. I just have. I was the teacher who would walk into the room and have a cluster of my students come running to greet me each morning I was on a late shift. I didn't encourage it or foster it – it just was what it was. It was not some ego boost. I wasnt grooming teacher worshiping students. We genuinely enjoyed one another's company. Now this isn't to say that there were not children who I found challenging to connect with. There were children who I really struggled with, and those were the relationships I had to work to nurture. And sometimes I think we never got there, that child and I.

I've been working at my current service as a non-teaching director for about 6 months. I walk in and out of the rooms. I spend some time in the garden. I'm not consistently working with children. I have noticed something critical. A single interaction, no matter how seemingly insignificant to me – a passer-through – was significant to a child.

That is our power to nurture or to do harm.

I spent more time in the preschool side of our service – purely because the 2IC is the lead teacher in that space. She was central to supporting me in learning the bureaucratic nuances to this organization. My first interaction with a toddler in our nursery was a passing through moment: I noticed someone wearing one sock. Which led to a conversation about socks – I decided to take my shoes off and show them that I was wearing odd socks: one spots and one stripes. That moment – an unplanned sharing – led to this child saying my name, looking for me when he arrived at little school, saying goodbye to me when he left. Simply showing the children my quirky sock choices led to a connection and a relationship.

Reflecting further back, at the start of the year I was running a vacation care program. We were sitting at the kinetic sand table and a younger boy who was new to vacation care and transitioning from preschool to kindergarten, started to flick the sand. I asked him to stop because he was possibly going to flick sand into someone's eyes which would really hurt them. He stopped and all was good in the world of the kinetic sand table. A young friend, about 11 years old, sitting next to me said “You're really nice.” … I wasn't expecting to hear a random statement like that so I asked him why. He said I just was and because I didn't yell at that boy. I didn't yell at the children. He went on to say that if someone had done 'the wrong thing' then all the children would be gathered on the stage where they would be reprimanded as a collective. I was really nice because I let him charge his gameboy where the other 'teacher' wouldn't – she'd only let her son charge his and not the other children.

This hit me. It hit me hard. I'm still thinking about it ten months later.

I was greatly saddened to hear that this was this child's experience of vacation care. I was saddened by a great many things that he had divulged to me about how other children had bullied him and pushed him against walls and held him by his neck – threatening him. How nothing was done about it. How he didn't feel safe. This explained why he spent time at my side from day one, why he checked the children's sign in and out, why he'd watch the door nervously when children and families would arrive. I thought it was simply because he recognized me for the awesome teacher and fabulous human being that I am. It was because he was living in silent fear.

I saw the fear in his eyes when 'that kid' turned up. That kid was about a year older than he but taller and much older in terms of physical development. This kid was mean. He was manipulative. He would watch and strike strategically. It's not often that I don't like young people. This individual was not being a nice person. Look, I still treated him like I did all the others, but I watched him. I watched him watch me. Thankfully he only attended two days.

{Fast forward to three months to this moment where I am editing this article for my blog and I want to add a moment which includes Miss E. She's just turned two and she's pint sized. She has always been a reserved and quite little soul. I'd love to tell you about the little moments I've shared with Miss E at the end of the day when I step onto the floor for 30-60 minutes - where I might share 10-20 minutes with her in family grouping. But I won't. They are brief. And they are mostly about her accompanying me to do the final day lock up ... We would walk through the centre with my colleague, and we would check the rooms and make sure no one was left behind in the other rooms. This was not our every day thing, it was just our sometimes thing when my shift aligned with a late collection of her. 

The other day when I was in the nursery room speaking to the two leaders about their spaces and their plans for 2016, Miss E approached me. I looked down and asked her if she'd like a cuddle, her arms were raised which I read as a yes. I picked her up and balanced her on my hip while I continued to discuss the piece of paper in my hand with my team. I'd placed my glasses upon my head, and she grabbed my face in both of her hands and held her nose to mine and squeezed my face. She then put her check to mine and then squeezed again. Then she put her arms around my neck and gave me a big hug. Then she looked at my face again. I died. I just died. I just ended up giving her the biggest squeeze back and a big kiss on the cheek. I had no idea. I just didn't. I'm important to her. I need to make sure that I do not let her down. I need to make sure I don't let any of them down. What a seriously big freaking responsibility we have! Seriously. Now, back to the original piece I wrote ... }

Anyway. The significant point I am trying to make here is that the children watch you and learn from you. I'm not referring to the role modeling you do when try to demonstrate those typical academic things that many educators seem to focus upon … I'm referring to deeper things. The touchy feely, the emotional and feeling things.

We teach children. We teach them what we think of them. How we value them as people. How we think they should be treated. We teach them how to accept treatment by others – peers and adults alike. We teach them 'their' worth through our eyes. We teach them what we think of them by how we engage with their peers – do we place more value upon one child over another?

One single moment, seemingly unimportant in our adult eyes, can carry so much weight for a child.

Remember that.

We teach relationships, through relationships.

We form relationships through actions and words.

Make every action, every moment priceless.

© Teacher's Ink. 2015

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