Modeling Transformative Relationships in Alabama
What is the best of humanity you’d like to instill in children? Would you agree that it’s the relationships we build and the kindness, respect, and empathy we show one another?
How, then, does a child learn kindness, empathy, and respect? Children learn what they live and grow to live what they’ve learned. And as the adults in children’s lives, we have the privilege and responsibility to create these learning experiences. It’s not what we say but what we do that matters most for children. They model our behavior.
In October, our team at Leading for Children was honored to attend the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education’s Early Learning Conference. We met inspiring educators from across the state, who are creating environments where every adult in the lives of children owns a clear sense of purpose, has a strong voice, and listens and learns from diverse perspectives. Individually and in partnership, they’re modeling the best of humanity for children.
Of course, this isn’t always easy. Sometimes we feel tired, burnt out, and disconnected. And in these moments, we have a choice: we can acknowledge our emotions, harness our optimism, and persevere. A principal we met in Alabama noticed how an optimistic attitude shapes her school environment:
“I have a lot of control over the weather at our school. I can create sunshine, but I can also create a storm. I decide the weather that I want to set.”
When we act with optimism, we create a ripple effect to those around us. And for this change to spread across our communities, we must work in equitable partnerships. This means inviting others into conversation, working together to support children’s growth and learning, modeling respect in the ways we show up with and for each other, and sharing our power. Often, we equate power with being in charge and telling others what to do and how to do it. Yet in Alabama, adults are rethinking this definition and finding new ways to welcome others into conversation.
An assistant principal explained:
“I’m more intentional about creating opportunities for families to engage in decision-making. The school belongs to the parents and community members, and sometimes we neglect to keep that front of mind. I’m more confident in my ability to interact with parents and community leaders now that I have the skills to lead these conversations with intention.”
We’ve seen in Alabama how simple acts of setting intentions and sharing power can transform relationships and environments for children. To make this happen in your own settings, LFC’s Five Commitments of Optimistic Leaders can be a guide.
1. Think Impact to make informed decisions. Everything we do and say has consequences or benefits.
2. Cultivate Self-Awareness to guide thought, emotion, and behavior. Self-awareness is the capacity to recognize your own feelings, behaviors, and characteristics, and to understand your cognitive, physical, and emotional self.
3. Nurture Relationships to support learning and collaboration. Research has consistently shown the importance of high-quality, trusting relationships in achieving educational outcomes.
4. Refine Communication for mutual clarity and understanding. Communication is key to maintaining positive and effective relationships.
5. Activate Curiosity to find connections and continue learning. When we activate curiosity, we are more willing to take risks, experiment, and try things out.
Breaking down traditional power structures and solving systemic problems in early childhood education requires great individual and collective courage, and a whole new set of skills. The Five Commitments of Optimistic Leaders can be a step in that direction, helping build the social emotional skills that are the foundations of equitable partnerships: reflective practice, self-awareness, perspective taking, and respect for diverse perspectives. They’re an invitation to be bold and stand up for what we believe in — what is fair and right — on our shared path to achieving the goals of inclusion and equity.
As an Alabama Pre-K teacher said:
“One person alone may not make a big impact; it takes all of us working together. We all bring different pieces of the puzzle, and we need all of them to make it work.”
We all know that strong adults make strong children. And as our partners in Alabama reinforce, listening to each other is not extracurricular. It’s not just a nice thing to do; it’s our only way to solve the complex problems putting our children’s future at risk. Because humanity is not a lofty idea, it’s the heart of our daily life. It’s what we say and do. It’s how we treat others. It’s what children experience and learn from every day. Building our humanity is fulfilling our true potential. It is not an option, it’s a necessity. And it’s not only for some of us, but for all of us.