It’s that time of the year again. School is back in session. Across Wediko, staff are either returning to familiar roles, or being oriented to new responsibilities. I usually experience the annual return to school with mixed emotions, but this year was different. I thoroughly enjoyed my first day back. Without any meetings scheduled, I was fortunate to see many school staff whom I have known and worked alongside for over 20 years. I left the school that day feeling energized and profoundly appreciative of the many warm greetings I exchanged there. As I thought about this later, I realized this good feeling I was carrying around with me had something to do with attachment.
I’ve learned a lot about attachment at Wediko. My friend and colleague, Dr. Anne Gehrenbeck Shim, explains it this way: Imagine yourself in an airport terminal, waiting at the gate for a close friend or relative’s flight to arrive. As you wait, your feelings of anticipation grow, and depending on how long your wait is you may even begin to feel anxious. You check the arrivals; you double-check whether you are at the correct gate. Finally, passengers begin to emerge and you eagerly scan the crowd to find the familiar face of the person for whom you have been waiting. When the moment arrives and your eyes meet, you experience a wave of emotion. The feeling is often a mixture of joy and relief that instantly draws you together. As Anne likes to say, “That’s attachment!”
Gate reunion scenario and how it relates to attachment
The gate reunion scenario is a real-life version of the “strange situation” experiment that was originally conceived by attachment pioneer Mary Ainsworth. Ainsworth studied children’s attachment “style” by examining children’s response to a situation in which they are temporarily separated from – and then reunited with-their primary caregiver, usually the mother. The research into attachment and its role in how we learn to relate to each other, as well as to our own emotional experience, has grown tremendously. We now understand attachment as not only a key part of psychological development but also as a dimension of our growth in the context of relationships which can be learned, nurtured and strengthened.
One of the best things about working in schools is the annual opportunity to recognize and celebrate the beginning of a new year with colleagues, students and families. From an attachment perspective, the rituals and ceremonies in which we participate hold great potential for strengthening the bonds within our school communities. While on the one hand these gatherings reveal the attachment style we all bring to our work, they also offer an opportunity to invest more deeply in our connection with others. Of course in reality this opportunity is always present, but the beginning of the school year is a special time. We have the chance to catch our breath, to think about the year ahead, and to reflect on what we want for our schools, for each other and for ourselves. In a sense, right now we are all “at the gate” together. As this new school year begins, we will assuredly scan the crowd for the familiar faces that bring joy and relief. However, where our points of connection with others in our school communities may be new, previously challenged, or just undernourished, we can also approach this time as an opportunity for growth.