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Leading with Warmth

I’ve written before about how special daycare teachers are to my family. Because they spend so much time with our babies when we can’t, I try to do small things to let them know how much we care for and appreciate them. Childcare is exhausting work; it’s underpaid and underfunded and difficult. Still, teachers dedicate themselves to this work despite low-pay, lack of career advancement opportunities, and, let’s face it, lots of screaming and poop. When you find a teacher you connect with, it can feel like the stars have aligned.

After moving earlier this year, Jack and I are genuinely grateful to be at the daycare center we found. The administration is responsive and very on top of Covid protocols, the other families are friendly and approachable, and the teachers are lovely. We developed a quick bond with my younger son’s primary teacher who was very kind and had a daughter about his age; we talked about our kids both formally (where we had a teacher-family relationship) and informally (where we were just two moms sharing). So, when I found out she was leaving, I was devastated.

In many ways, this is the downside of building deep relationships between families and schools. People have to do what’s best for them and their families, and sometimes those things are hard for you and your family. Glennon Doyle, a bestselling author and co-host of the “We Can Do Hard Things” podcast, talks about celebrating someone’s “no” as much as celebrating their “yes,” (the idea being that we can honor and support people setting boundaries and doing what is generally in their best interest), and I hope I was able to help this teacher honor her decision as she was leaving. But still, it was agonizing. In reflecting on why it felt so difficult to say goodbye to this teacher, I realized that she was the first person at this new daycare center that I felt an authentic connection with.

We build connections in myriad ways. As teachers, we have different opening moves we make and different postures and beliefs that undergird those moves. Some of us lead with strictness and structure, some with curiosity, and others with fun. This particular teacher led with warmth. Each day, the children got a genuine smile with an enthused calling of their name as they entered. She asked if they wanted a hug or encouraged them to do their favorite morning activity (she knew that Tucker always wanted to feed the fish). They felt safe, and I know that it helped me, and other parents I’ve spoken with, feel at ease in dropping off our own kids—the centers of our very universe.

Teachers, there are so many ways of building relationships with kids and their families. If you have a style that’s working for you, that’s wonderful. But, if you’re not sure how to lean into a relationship or if you’re looking to change up how you’ve been doing it, I’d encourage you to think about how to engage warmth in your practice. Though I’m not teaching, I have been mindful of how I interact with our younger son’s new teacher. I’m working on developing that relationship by warmly interacting with her each chance I get. It won’t be the same, but I have confidence and past experience telling me that it will be very worth it. And how better to honor a teacher who helped us feel so comfortable, than by extending that same opening move as often as I can?

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