If you’ve never received or written a professional love letter, I hope you will soon. Whether on a post-it note, or in a text message, telling a current or former colleague how much we appreciate them and what we’ve learned from them is a profound expression of gratitude and, yes, love. And telling our students what we love about them and why we care about them, matters perhaps more than we realize. Early childhood educators and researchers have long recognized the value of professional love and the importance of the bond that is “formed through close attachments and reciprocity of relationship,” and the fact that it can have a powerful influence on both wellbeing and achievement in early care settings.
We know that relationships matter in education, well beyond the preschool classroom. There is ample evidence that positive relationships with caring adults have a great impact on student engagement and learning. Throughout the pandemic, caring about and for students has become an essential part of every teacher’s job description. Students’ social-emotional wellbeing has been a central concern of schools, and we know that having just one positive relationship with a caring adult has an important impact on students.
We also know that caring for and appreciating our colleagues is an essential part of building a professional learning community. Roland Barth famously observed “one incontrovertible finding emerges from my career spent working in and around schools: The nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else.” Every Monday morning for the past four years, our WIDA international team has met to reflect on the previous week and, in particular, to recognize and appreciate other members of the team for what they’ve accomplished. We have been known to unabashedly share heart-eyed emojis, and blushing is sometimes involved. This simple act of taking a moment to express public gratitude and appreciation is essential in building relational trust and yes, even professional love.
Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider (2002) recognized that "trust is the connective tissue that holds improving schools together.” Bryk and Schneider’s research identified four aspects of relational trust which might also define how we express professional love: integrity, or consistency between what a person says and does; respect, or genuinely listening and valuing the opinions of others; competence, or the ability to carry out one’s responsibilities; and personal regard for others, or the willingness to extend ourselves beyond what our role might formally require in any given situation.
This time of year many families reconnect to express gratitude for each other, and for the opportunity to gather in person. And as schools head into the busy weeks preceding the winter holidays, take a moment to share with students and colleagues how much you care about them, and what you appreciate about them – and maybe even write a professional love letter.
Jon Nordmeyer, WIDA International Programs director