Teacher Talk: Building Relationships
We know, as Montessori teachers and child advocates, that the most important relationships we build in the classroom are the ones we offer to the children. We observe them with care and try to meet them where they are, offering them grace when they misstep and guidance when we know they’re ready for more. We seek to understand them so deeply that we can prepare with precision the environments within which they will thrive. It can be a singular focus of our work.
But it shouldn’t be.
Your relationships with children matter. Of course, they matter. And the observations you make matter. The implications suggested by those observations matter. Your professional judgment matters. Your expertise and your compassion matter. Of course. Of course.
But you can’t do this alone. And you shouldn’t try.
While your end-goal is the service of the child, don’t overlook the other people who are headed toward the same horizon with you: parents, other teachers, school support and other caregivers. It’s equally important to build positive, collaborative relationships with each of these stakeholders. When you build relationships with other adults who care for the same children you do, you expand the perspectives from which you can draw when you are preparing the environments to serve them. No one teacher, no matter how nuanced they are in their observations, can know everything there is to know about a child. The child’s parents bring another set of details and experiences. The caregiver who supervises on the playground after school brings another set. Grandparents and babysitters, too… when you understand what a child’s experiences are outside of the classroom, you are better informed to understand how they are making sense of their experiences within the classroom. In short, you’ll prepare for the children better if you engage the supportive collaboration of other adults.
But that’s not all. When you develop healthy, collaborative relationships with other adults, adults who understand the nature of your work and the expanse of demands under which you enact that practice, you benefit as a person. This is lonely work, and for many of us, we may spend most of the day in a classroom with chattering children but little adult interaction. Even when we share the space with a coteacher or assistant, we generally remain focused on the children and don’t engage directly with each other except to propel the children’s work. We need the connection outside of the classroom to be whole when we are inside of it. We need the human support, the friendship and fellowship, of people with whom we can laugh or cry or vent or just wonder about the children we serve. We need the shared experiences of other adults who can help us to carry the sometimes overwhelming psychic load of teaching.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes the perspectives of other adults clash so much with our own that we want to discard them rather than work to integrate them into our understanding of the child. Sometimes we think the other adults are actually the problem, that their behavior is obstructing the children’s development. Sometimes our own histories or our own preferences get in the way of seeing other adults as our equals or our mentors. But remember: we don’t outgrow the Golden Rule. Those same presumptions about intention we may be making about other adults… they may be making about us. If we conclude that another caregiver is (negligent, irresponsible, selfish, obstructive, annoying,) we miss out on the possibilities that might emerge if we instead concluded that they were (overwhelmed, overburdened, trying their hardest, trying to help, scared.) If you offer the other adults around you the same grace and forgiveness you give so generously to the children, you may find that they, too, rise to the occasion. We are all, truly, doing the best we can with what we can. As you invest in authentic relationships with other adults around you, offer them compassion and kindness, just as you’d hope to receive yourself on a hard day. You may find that you have more in common than you originally thought, more to offer and more to gain, for your own growth and in service to the children you share.