The Power of the Profession, Connection, and Relationship

I had the distinct pleasure and honor to attend and present at the 2015 National Association for the Education of the Young Child (NAEYC) Conference & Expo. This year’s theme was titled “The Power of the Profession.” After my experience there, I would like to retitle it: The Power of the Profession, Connection, and Relationships.

Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to attend an all-white public elementary school in the American South, opened the conference. Her message focused on the power of the teaching profession by illustrating the difference that one teacher can make. Ruby spoke compellingly about her experiences in 1960 as a six-year-old child integrating William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Angry adult mobs violently protested her presence there. But Ruby persisted and walked through these mobs to get to school.

Please see this video for a brief glimpse into her experiences.

How was a small child brave enough to walk past these angry mobs? She knew that her beloved teacher, Mrs. Barbara Henry, was on the other side of those doors. Ruby and Mrs. Henry had the kind of relationship that we want with our teachers, family, and friends. Ruby loved school. She loved to learn, and she loved Mrs. Henry. Their relationship was so strong that Ruby was able to endure the angry protesters on a daily basis.

Today, Ruby and Mrs. Henry are still the best of friends. Yes, it was the power of the teaching profession that guided Ruby through those angry mobs, but Mrs. Henry used that power to foster connection and a personal relationship with Ruby. This is a powerful combination.

Fred Rogers believed that this power can guide our children through any circumstances they may face. He once said, “Children take their parents’ opinions and their teachers’ opinions very seriously, so honesty linked with love is the most important response in any relationship.”

“Children take their parents’ opinions and their teachers’ opinions very seriously, so honesty linked with love is the most important response in any relationship.” (Fred Rogers, Oct. 1978)

As for me, Ruby and Fred Rogers guided me through this year’s NAEYC Conference. I viewed every workshop through this lens of honesty, love, and connection.  As I often do in my work for the Fred Rogers Center, I found myself pondering questions related to this theme of connection: How do we support children? How do we support relationships? How do we encourage social-emotional development? How do we support each other? How is technology being used in a way that supports relationships? How do we connect within our professional communities in order to best serve children? The answers may take different forms depending on the situation, but at their core is one common theme: learning and growing through relationships.

As teachers, we have so many things competing for our time and attention as we consider what is best for children: new curricula, new approaches, and new tools. It can be a lot to take in. But, the prevailing message of Fred and Ruby helps us to see more clearly. They both emphasized the absolute necessity of caring relationships in education and in our lives. Our children learn because they love their teachers and because they want to be in our early learning environments. Ruby’s message to the teachers at the NAEYC Conference was clear: You play an extremely valuable role in children’s lives. Please never underestimate that power. You are truly essential in the lives of children.


Tanya Baronti’s participation in the 2015 National Association for the Education of Young Children Conference was generously supported by The Sprout Fund. Photo: “US Marshals with Young Ruby Bridges on School Steps” by an uncredited Department of Justice photographer. Licensed under public domain.

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  • Cathy / 23 December 2015 3:41

    Well said Tanya, and I completely agree!

  • Connie / 10 January 2016 5:00

    Hedda, I was so inspired by your NAEYC presentation in Orlando-thank you! It was a highlight of the convention for me. I was blessed to have met Mr Rogers many times as an Early Childhood educator, and after 44 years in the field, still consider him my mentor. Your work is a tribute to his for certain. I was especially ‘pleased’ to hear you share that Early Childhood educators are uncomfortable including science, as that has been my experience in encouraging my teachers (I am the founder/director of an Early Childhood private school since 1975) to include more science. It made me relax a bit, knowing this is just not my own personal experience. I needed to understand that this is an area in which all teachers need encouraging, not just at our school. I will be sharing all I learned from you with my teachers next week at our staff meeting, and am confident your suggestions will be well received. As someone told me early in my career, “If you aren’t changing, you aren’t growing!” Thank you for renewed encouragement and inspiration! Blessings!