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Because Relationships are the Building Blocks of Life

Last Friday, I had the chance to sit down with one of my younger son’s daycare teachers for a conference. We’re leaving the center at the end of June to go to one a minute down the road from our house. I imagined his teacher might talk a little bit about how he’s sharing (a struggle, to be sure), how he listens at story time (surprisingly well), and how he uses scissors (an area for growth). What I didn’t expect was a heartfelt conversation where we wove together a discussion of his skills with how hard it is to let go of relationships.


I’ve written before about how important our connections with our sons’ daycare teachers have been. Their teachers have both witnessed and brought about some pivotal moments for our kids and helped us, as parents, with strategies to help curb unwanted behaviors or lay the groundwork for what we hoped they would do next. My husband and I haven’t thought of these teachers as babysitters who are only entrusted with safety and a bit of fun. Instead, we’ve partnered with them to try and help our children develop in the best ways, which means we’ve talked at length about what we’re seeing and what concerns us. The particular teacher I talked with taught our older son for a year before she began with our younger son, who she’s worked with for the last two years. We know and trust her.


When we began talking, she let me know right away that she’d been told that we’d be leaving the center in another month, and her eyes got teary as she said that she was going to really miss him. One of the things I’ve noticed about this teacher over the years is that she’s unflappable; she’s seen so many different behaviors in her more than 20 years working with preschoolers, and my own children have benefitted from the fact that she doesn’t seem to get overwhelmed, so I took note of how she expressed her emotions. Her admission changed our conversation from something that likely would have felt clinical (most of my other conferences here have) to something that felt deeply personal. We bounced back and forth between moments where my son struggled or succeeded, and she continued looping back to specific things that she would miss about him (his curiosity, his strong sense of self, how he likes to be helpful). When we were mostly finished, she shared that she’d really miss all of us. She said that she felt like our relationship was the last deep one she had with a family. That floored me. My husband and I have always tried to recognize the efforts of our sons’ caregivers, but, in my mind, it wasn’t some extraordinary thing.


After we were done talking, I started to think about what teaching would be like for me without feeling that deep sense of connection not only with my students, but also with their families, and I think it would be much harder.


Here are a few ways that I can illustrate this:


-I wouldn’t feel as confident emailing or calling home. With good relationships with families, I can reach out more quickly about things I see that give me pause. I don’t feel the need to have a long, documented list of specific instances that were troubling or behaviors that didn’t sit right before I let a family know that I think something might be up. And while this kind of thing is, of course, true for families that I feel comfortable with, that comfort with a few families translates to more students because I’m more willing to trust my gut and reach out before there’s a bigger issue to tackle. In the absence of these connections, I’m likely to second guess myself and communicate more hesitantly about what I notice.


-I’d feel less connection to my students. While much of a teacher’s ability to connect with their students happens in the classroom, there’s another layer that you access when you build a connection with their family. Whether it means you can reference an event you a student[1]  attended or can ask about their pet or can check in with them more easily, this relationship with a family allows you to see a student in the context of one unit they belong to, and it can broaden your understanding of who they are and what they need. You can connect with students without this but adding it in brings such helpful clarity.


-I’d feel anxiety about seeing a students’ family member rather than excitement. Before I got in the habit of trying to know my students’ families in addition to knowing my students, I would hesitate before doing much more than greeting a family member. I don’t know if I was worried that I would bother them or whether it was something else, but I didn’t lean toward those conversations. Once I got to know a few families, I’d consistently take the chance, and I wasn’t worried about how it would go. This isn’t to say that I knew everyone or that I knew all families equally as well, but I found joy in getting to understand as many families as I could. That joy is what fuels my love of teaching, and without that, I worry that I’d experience burnout.


I am going to keep my fingers crossed that this daycare teacher finds ways to develop more relationships with the families of kids she cares for, and I’ll likely explicitly share that with her, too. But I think what struck me most as I thought about relationships with families was that I know there are so many new teachers, just in their first couple of years, who don’t yet know how everything feels better when you build these connections. So, if you are a newer teacher or know a newer teacher, please encourage them to tackle this kind of work next year—they won’t regret it.


If you’re looking for some helpful ideas of how to get started with this, leave us a comment. We’d love to help.

know that your student? know that a student? It reads find out loud but written feels odd


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