When I was in my twenties, I was teaching third grade at a school in New York City. I had many close friendships among the faculty and got along with just about everyone. Early one year, the Director organized a whole-school professional development retreat at a beautiful location just outside the city. We were seated at large tables around the room and the event began. Within the first hour, I decided I didn’t like the presentation. Why is not important to the story — how I showed my dislike is what matters. I wrote a few sarcastic notes to my friends seated at my table. Their laughter fueled me and I continued to make jokes, bringing more people in and creating more of a distraction. The day continued. The next morning my Director asked to speak with me. She offered me feedback: Judy, she said, you have many relationships in this school. Your colleagues respect you and are influenced by you. You always have a choice about how to use your influence. Yesterday, you chose to use it to impede the learning of some of your colleagues.
To create early learning systems that promote equity and excellence for all children, nurturing relationships with children and adults is an imperative. Why? Research tells us that young children develop within an environment of caring and supportive relationships that begin in the family and include other adults who play important roles in children’s lives. In that conference room, I used my relationships with colleagues to distract them from learning. In that moment I couldn’t find a way to be curious and open to the presentation. Instead, I used “clowning around” to take the attention off the presenter and focus it on me. I’m embarrassed thinking back to that day.
However, how fortunate I am to have had a Director who was an Optimistic Leader. Rather than correcting me or shaming me, she offered guidance in a way that strengthened our relationship and taught me about how relationships matter in a group. Her strengths-based feedback informed my decisions about nurturing professional relationships throughout my career.
Every person in a group or organization affects others’ ability to learn with and from each other. The Optimistic Leader builds and models professional relationships that invite others to learn with and from each other. Healthy environments for young children depend on each person’s contribution to the dynamics of the group. Whether you are in a staff meeting with colleagues in your program, a workshop that includes many other programs in your community, or a national conference with people you hardly know, your interactions with others nurture relationships — fleeting or lasting — that can support learning and collaboration. As you engage with your professional colleagues, think about cultivating self-awareness and activating curiosity about how you nurture relationships in a group.
 Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2016). From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts: A Science-Based Approach to Building a More Promising Future for Young Children and Families. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
© Leading for Children, 2020.