Building a Foundation of Trust

By Molly DeGesero


Three squeezes. PauseTwo squeezes. Pause. Three squeezes. Pause. My dad would then turn to me, his hand in mine with a smile expectantly waiting for my squeezes in response. This was our secret going to school language—and looking back on it now, a wonderful way to distract me! Growing up in a family of educators, as my mother worked as a first or second grade teacher for 40 plus years, my sister worked in admissions departments and my father was the CFO of various independent schools, school was my life. Because I struggled with saying goodbye to my parents at school, separation is now at the forefront of my thinking as a school director. Every day, I think deeply about how to support the building of trust between children, families, and teachers. This squeeze moment with my father was part of our ritual in pre-school, allowing me to transition calmly with trust into the school day. However, there was one last part of the ritual. When I would arrive at school, I would hug my father as hard as I could, squeezing my eyes shut. My father would wiggle from my arms, being replaced by my teacher as we “passed the hug,” passing trust and compassion from one adult in my life to the other.

At Park Avenue Methodist Day School (PAMDS), we think deeply about these rituals of building trust. We think about what is going to support the adult and the child in this pivotal moment, a child’s first school experience. One of these important structures is Home Visits. Each child, no matter how long they have been with us, gets visited at their home by their teachers. Most recently, The New York Times published an article entitled “Pre-K Teachers are Making House Calls” by Christina Caron and Katherine Zoepf. While the article focuses on the importance of these visits, particularly for immigrant families, at the end of the day it is about establishing “mutually supportive relationships.” Children see their adults interacting with new adults (teachers), adults see their child playing with teachers, and a trusting bond begins. The child enters school on their first day already familiar with these new adults, and parents feel confident their child is safe and secure.  

As parents, it can be hard to be away from your child for the first time. You don’t necessarily know what is happening moment to moment at school. If you are lucky, you might get a few words here and there about life at school, but children often are not going to report. One way to support conversation is through the use of our Weekly Newsletter. This is sent home every Friday and is filled with pictures and descriptions of the week’s activities. You can show your child the pictures and ask, “What are you doing in this picture?” You might read that children were exploring color mixing, and you can then ask a targeted question like, “What colors did you use at the painting easel?” It is important to understand that teachers are getting to know your child during these first few weeks of school, seeing different things than you would at home. They are observing carefully, learning about their dynamic within the group, helping them solve conflicts with peers, and joining in the learning. Trust that we will always let you know if something crucial happened at school, and we trust you will do the same about home.

It is also important to keep in mind that school is hard for young children. Children are managing many different factors, from friendship to daily expectations and understanding the routine. When children begin to express reluctance about coming, we ask that you share this with your child’s teachers, as it is crucial that all of the adults in a child’s life are working together and communicating. I have shared at our Separation Workshop (held every year for parents before the school year starts) that when these comments arise, it is important to acknowledge and then move on. “I know going to school today feels hard. It is okay to feel sad now, but go to school and have fun. Would you like toast or cereal for breakfast?” It is in these moments that children are trusting you to guide and support them through this new daily routine.

Trust is a crucial part of pre-school, and through routine, communication and rituals such as Home Visits, the home/school connection is fostered, and the foundation of school is established. I cannot wait to see how our amazing children grow over the year.