A role model is someone you look up to and want to be like-but also someone you connect with as a person. There's a special relationship between a child and a teacher, particularly in the early childhood years. Teachers must think carefully about how their manner affects the children in their classrooms. Here are things to have teachers consider as they broaden the image of themselves as role models for the children they work with:

Social/Emotional Skills

Attitude is a key factor. As you move through the day with care and enthusiasm, their attitude will translate to children's investment in what they are doing. Greeting children (and their parents!) warmly as they arrive is the first step. Commenting appropriately on their block building, painting, or progress in putting together a puzzle builds self-esteem. Conversing as they join the table at snacktime allows children to experience the teacher as a person, a social being in the life of the classroom community. Your tone of voice carries an impact. Aside from differences in personality, a role model's tone in speaking with children is direct and unaffected. As the adult, you have a responsibility to make decisions and to keep children safe, but not to talk down to them. The challenge is to see young children in their own developmental space, yet to treat them as equals in a human sense.

Intellectual Growth

Let children "catch you" in the act of reading to yourself. These moments can be brief, and scattered throughout the day. Pre-read the picture book you're going to read to the class: sit in the library or meeting area where the children can notice you perusing the pictures and words. Read aloud from a recipe or cookbook when you undertake a cooking project. Present new materials to provoke children's interest, and join them in the act of discovery. If your class has collected objects from a walk outside to examine in the classroom, you can add to those items that have piqued children's curiosity: additional rocks or pebbles, along with small magnifying glasses for taking a closer look. This can lead to questions, ideas, and perhaps representations on paper. Adopt the stance of a coconspirator as you investigate alongside your young scientists. And when you don't know the answer to a question, say so! This is the ultimate intellectual empowerment for children who too often feel that their own questions and answers are inferior to ours.

Physical Development

Emphasize the importance of cleanliness by observing hygienic practices yourself:

  • Observe the cleanliness routines established for the children and lead the way! Stay visible when washing your hands after toileting a child or using the bathroom. Announce, "I have to wash my hands!" before any cooking or eating activity.
  • Clean tables and spills carefully and completely, alongside the children, after meals or snack.
  • Encourage nutritious foods, whether for breakfast, lunch, or in between.
  • Talk about the importance of healthy foods, and the different food groups that combine to help you feel well and stay healthy.
  • Explain why moderation is important, as you encourage picky eaters or limit too-large portions. It's okay to say "I love to eat, and not eating too much is hard for me, but it's good for me too!

Take changes in the weather seriously:

  • Early spring is a tricky time of year in terms of weather. Work with families to send appropriate outdoor clothing for mud, chilly temperatures, and rain. If possible keep some extra items on hand for weather emergencies.
  • Stay conscious that your own appropriate clothing is a real incentive for children to wear theirs.

Articulate the benefits of physical activity:

  • Talk about the pleasures of being outdoors, stretching and moving-and don't just stand around yourself!
  • If the weather's bad, encourage indoor games, even something as simple as Duck, Duck, Goose! Invite parents or other guests who can teach beginning yoga principles, gymnastics, or folk dances. Again, always make sure that you join in.

As role models for children, teachers need to be aware of their impact on them socially, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Directors are also role models for their teachers. Together, we can make a real difference in children's lives.