Relationship spotlight: lead educator and assistant blog header

Relationship spotlight: lead educator and assistant

In the fall of 2021, I hired a new lead educator for our infant room. While she had a background in a school setting, her only experience with young children was raising her own and loving her granddaughter. The classroom had a primary assistant educator, even though there are a few educators that work in that classroom each week. When the new lead started in the room, the primary assistant had been in the classroom for about a year. She had no interest in being the lead educator and did not want full-time hours. 

Initially, it seemed like a good fit. The lead was asking a lot of questions and finding her footing in her new role and while the assistant was not always correct, she seemed to be trying to help the new lead learn the routines. But this honeymoon phase was short-lived. 

Conflict in the classroom between lead and assistant educators

The assistant soon became very defiant and stubborn, often completely ignoring the directions given by the lead educator. She started making decisions that were not in alignment with the building policies and her actions became increasingly unprofessional. She became jealous of the relationships that the lead had been building with the children and was often offended when the children weren’t comfortable on her lap. It appeared that her primary focus was making herself look good. 

Child chalk drawing

Her presence created a dark cloud in the classroom. The new lead was doing amazing work and building strong bonds with the children and their families, but she was becoming discouraged and began doubting her abilities as an educator. There was an obvious rift in the classroom, and you could feel the tension hanging in the air. The children in the room, eight younger infants, were often irritable. This tension even caused some of the children to struggle with feeding and napping. 

Because hiring quality educators can be difficult, leaders often convince themselves that red flags are just a parade and not a warning. We believe we can make it work with the warm body in the room. Quite often, it’s the warm body that causes the most stress. If they do not want to put in any effort to grow, no amount of training is going to help them be the educator your children deserve. When it became clear that the assistant was not going to release her dark cloud, the decision was made to let her go. 

What good working relationships look like in childcare 

The new assistant came with zero experience but had the desire to try something new. She immediately got to work building relationships with the children, all while asking the lead educator questions to learn more about the classroom. She wanted to know the why behind the policies and routines. Most importantly, she understood the importance of individualized care for the children in the classroom. Now that the lead educator had a supportive assistant, her confidence returned. She was able to manage the room more effectively because she had an assistant educator who she could rely on to complete tasks.

With the team working like a well-oiled machine, the environment felt safer. The children were less irritable, feedings were going more smoothly, and nap times were more peaceful. Not too long after the new team was formed, I stopped by the room to peek inside. It was so quiet that I assumed some of them were outside while the others were napping. Imagine my surprise when I looked in to see most of the children playing happily on the floor! 

The idea that children feed off your energy is an idea that is repeated over and over. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the children were so calm with the new team, but sometimes it takes seeing the result to understand the importance of the adult personalities in a classroom on the success of the children. 

Balancing conflicting personalities in early childhood education

Recently, I learned about an article written by Jennifer Gonzalez called “Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers”. In her article, she shares that gardeners use marigolds as companion plants because they encourage vegetables to grow stronger. She then explains that gardeners avoid planting near walnut trees because they are toxic. As leaders, it’s our job to nurture the marigolds and help them grow stronger. It’s also our job to face the unknown and remove the walnut trees when they become so deeply rooted that they threaten the morale of the entire building.  

Perhaps in a parallel universe, there is a childcare center where all the educators have personalities that perfectly mesh, and no one creates any drama. Here in the real world, early childhood leaders will often deal with conflicting personalities. The important work happens in the quiet. As a leader, I take time to recognize and reward educators for their work. I also encourage my staff to publicly share their gratitude for the other staff. Supporting and encouraging positive relationships creates a more welcoming environment that boosts staff collaboration and provides children with a safe place to learn. 

Amanda Shroyer

Amanda has worked in the early childhood field for over twenty years, and is currently the administrator of Muddy Feet Early Learning. She's a wife, a bonus mom, a paint hoarder, a cat caretaker, and a mess maker. She's currently laying the groundwork for the Early Childhood Revival, an online community for educators to act as champions for one another as we all fearlessly travel our teacher path. Her dream job is to travel the country and revitalize childcare centers the way Gordon Ramsey helps restaurant owners!