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Being a Role Model. Who Me?

By Kresta Horn, CHS New Danville Center Director

What does it mean to be a role model for children? As a professional serving in early childhood education (ECE) for more than 30 years, this question strikes me deeply.  I have been a teacher in the classroom, a leader at an ECE center, and a mother for 23 years. Despite this, I still hesitate to consider myself a role model.

As I ponder what I can do as a role model for my own children, my staff, and the children and families we will serve through Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning (CHS), my reflections have led me to conclude that there is not just one definition. Inspired by Catherine Hershey, renowned philanthropist and wife of Milton Hershey, CHS is creating a nurturing community that encourages all important adults in a child’s life to act consciously to help the child succeed, no matter what role they play.

If Webster’s Dictionary defines a role model as “a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated,” how do we achieve that when we are imperfect adults? In the past, when I worked with families experiencing homelessness, they often told me they “couldn’t be, wouldn’t be, or hadn’t been” anything that their child should imitate.

Poverty, addiction, mental health, criminal background, violence, and abuse left these families feeling worthless. Instead, I saw families whose very ‘brokenness’ meant they had so much to give and model to their children. By sitting there with me, they were modeling an important step to their child; they were modeling vulnerability and willingness to receive help How often do we miss the small steps of being a role model? How often do we go right to thinking of famous people who have been named role models because of their grandiose acts instead of noting the everyday positive interactions that makeup people’s lives?

At CHS, I have the great privilege of being part of the opening of our first Early Childhood Education Center. As we prepare to welcome children this fall, we have engaged in professional development activities and included the Seven Skills of Discipline from the Conscious Discipline framework. Each conscious skill leads to a life/communication skill and embraces a value. Becky Bailey, the founder of Conscious Discipline, stated, “By implementing the powers and skills together, we learn to stay in control of ourselves and in charge of children in a manner that models the same skills we seek to teach.

Each of these seven skills is an act of vulnerability: a willingness to say, “I can be conscious; I have skills within me to use.” Through this modeling, children will see that the skills the adults around them use to navigate everyday life make them role models worthy of imitation.  Here’s how it works.

Whether you are an educator, a family member, an administrator, or an operational staff member, what you do as an adult matters: when you stop and take a deep breath instead of lashing out or allowing a big emotion to bubble, that composure matters. When you stop someone from hurting or controlling another person, that assertiveness matters. When you stop and consciously think about what could happen in the face of temptation to do something damaging, and you say “No,” that choice matters. When you take the time to help and acknowledge someone sad, discouraged, or insecure, that encouragement matters.

When you take the time to listen, really listen, and honor the feelings and opinions of someone who seeks to be heard, and you acknowledge their thoughts and feelings, that empathy matters.  When, despite disagreeing with someone during a meeting, you take the time to listen, acknowledge the good of how they have done things, and find a way to meet in the middle to find the best solution, that positive intent matters. When you know that you have done something wrong— intentionally or unintentionally—and you say you are truly sorry to those you have hurt and acknowledge your mistake with truth and honesty (no matter how humbling and painful) that consequence matters.

The term alone, ‘role model,’ carries such weight and responsibility, and as a society, we have a generation of young children (and older children) watching. It doesn’t mean we must teach them to be perfect or be overburdened by the idea that we must achieve perfection. 

The moment we can acknowledge that we are using vulnerability as a superpower, we are empowered to cast aside, “I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, I hadn’t,” and we are free to say, “I can, I will, and not only that. I can grow”.

Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning are subsidiaries of Milton Hershey School and will be staffed and operated independently of the Milton Hershey School core model.

Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.