By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D., RECE.
For the last six months, I have been thinking and writing about critical friendships in anticipation of new book on the topic for Redleaf Press. The experience has been transformational as I think back and think forward about professional friendships and children’s peer-to-peer relationships. The construct of friendship implies a reciprocity of give-and-take. I love watching my granddaughter Reese learn about friendships and develop her own. From Sidney, to Ruby, Elsa and Anna, Reese has made connections that are reciprocal, even with her favourite movie characters!
The support that friends offer each other is expected to flow both ways as the need arises for either friend. A true friend can be counted on to offer help, regardless of inconvenience or challenges that they may face. Professional friendships flourish when there is mutual respect. To accept another as a professional friend requires trust. When we reflect on friendships, what are the possibilities?
This parallel process of reflection inspires deep thinking and I have come to the realization that critical friendships can be the new frontier for professional learning in early childhood education. As my manuscript is almost completed, I am contemplating what I can offer others by way of advice on the subject of friendships in early learning. The process of taking reflection and friendship to a degree where you think and engage critically is an opportunity to improve in your practice and children, families and your professional friends will benefit! What I have learned about critical friendships that is critical to me, is that they must begin with self. I haven’t always been kind to myself. I don’t often post photos of myself. I am learning to let go of these negative feelings towards myself and embrace who I am as a 65-year-old grandmother!
Kindness has the power to sustain professional relationships so that they can grow into critical friendships. A narrative of a kind friendship begins with a reminder to start with ourselves. When you are self-critical, your inner voice will always cut you down undermining your ability to be happy and your capacity to be a friend. We need self-compassion to stay friendly with others over the long term. Being kind to ourselves is a way to demonstrate self-compassion. Self-compassion will impact your life. Self-compassionate people are not selfish. They are connected to others. They know that everyone struggles, that we all make mistakes. People with self-compassion practise “self-kindness,” the quality that leads us to give ourselves the same care we give to others. You can learn not to attack or abandon yourself if you fall short. Instead, you can learn to offer yourself words of warmth and unconditional acceptance (Neff & Germer, 2021).
Neff & Germer (2021) refer to the yin and yang of self-compassion. The yin is related to acceptance and reassurance. The yang side is about the actions required. From the perspective of critical friendship think of a colleague who is struggling with work/life balance. She received a warning about taking private phone calls at work and was “written up”. A compassionate friend would never say, “Don’t worry, it’s nothing, we all get written up every now and then, I still love you.” Compassionate friends will give that unconditional love but will also want their friend to achieve work/life balance, because they want their friend to be happy. A compassionate friend will look for ways to help their friend. Now apply the same yin and yang to yourself. What could you say to yourself when struggling as we all do in our lives? What words would be accepting and reassuring? What words could you offer yourself to help you identify actions that you can take? To help you in this exercise of self-compassion, consider this scenario in your mind’s eye.
Imagine that you are asked by your employer to facilitate a workshop experience for a group of colleagues. You want to provide a hands-on experience for them that they could do with children. After looking online and thinking about possibilities you settle on a painted rock activity. You proceed to collect rocks from a local beach. You suggest to your fellow teachers that once painted the rocks can be left around the playground for the children to find. This, you suggest, will spark the children’s interest and the teachers can set up a similar experience for them. The workshop goes well, and the rocks are placed in the playground before the children awake from their nap. You feel very proud and accomplished so you are shocked when you are given feedback by your program’s pedagogical leader questioning your choices. You are told that painting the rocks has obscured their inherent beauty and it creates a disconnect between the children and nature. How would you apply a yin yang framework to this scenario?
The story of the painted rocks is based on personal experiences that I have had with Cindy, one of my dearest critical friends. Very early on in our friendship, we both worked as coordinators at the same college, at different campuses and attended the same conference for coordinators. I missed the first part of the session which featured rocks with words painted on them. When I arrived, Cindy handed me a rock with the word integrity because she thought of me when she saw it. I have received many gifts from friends, this one is especially meaningful. It signifies a friendship that has endured and prospered.
We have collected rocks together on our favourite beach for many workshops. We invited teachers to adorn their rock with one meaningful power word. What would be your power word? Mine would be self-compassion, to represent the yin. I accept myself as evolving. I can be kind to myself. Years later Cindy asked a respected Elder, about the practice of writing or painting on rocks. Her answer was simple, “rocks are already beautiful”. From the yang side I can rethink the rock experience and take the action required. I can use this experience as an opportunity to improve. My yang power word would be powerful as I have the power to change.
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. ~Maya Angelou