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Encourage Your Colleagues

Jordan Catapano

It’s wintertime, which can mean any number of depressing things. The days are shorter and darker. The weather is colder. We find ourselves having to scrape our cars clean of snow at the end of the day when we really just want to go home. We show up to school before the sun rises, and leave after it sets. Those gray clouds just linger and linger the entire season. Drab colors of blacks and grays become more prominently worn. We find our students getting crankier and more tired. Heck, we find ourselves crankier and more tired. And all the “joy” of the holidays seems to add more stress than well-being to our lives.

Am I just being pessimistic? Maybe. There are certainly a lot of positives to look forward to around this season. But we can’t help admitting that there are just some aspects of this time of year that make it difficult.

A few weeks ago I just wasn’t feeling that great as I was walking into our school building one morning. I felt stressed and uneasy about my day. Then something very great happened. A colleague of mine from a different department was also walking in. He greeted me loudly and warmly, asked how I was doing, asked about my family, joked a little with me, and wished me a happy day. The entire exchange lasted about two minutes. What’s amazing, though, is that I felt totally different by the end of our conversation. After just a few minutes of chatting with someone I only sort of worked with, I felt much better. My mood improved and I had way more “emotional energy” than I had before talking to him.

This exchange taught me something important: A good mood is contagious. What we don’t realize is that we personally possess an enormous amount of power for encouraging those around us. Our profession seems ripe with ways to “get us down,” but our relationships and interactions with our colleagues are ripe with opportunities for building one another up.

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The beauty of it is that it does not take much time, thought, or energy to make someone’s day a little better. We don’t need a lesson plan, a card, a rubric, checklist, or script for encouraging someone. Instead – like my colleague demonstrated to me – all we need is a smile and caring attitude. Those two ingredients go a very long way in making someone else’s day a little bit better.

So think of your colleagues as your teammates. At times they’re going to need someone like you to be that positive force of encouragement. Even the simplest forms of encouragement remind your peers that they have a friend who cares, that they can focus on the positives, and that there’s someone who likes and believes in them. Whether you’re walking into a building, chatting with peers in your department, or just passing someone in the halls, don’t miss your opportunities to make a really good impact on someone’s day.

Some simple ways you can do this include smiling, asking about them and their families, and genuinely listening to what they say about how they’re doing. You can also do small favors like holding open a door, helping someone carry materials, or just assisting them with something they need at the moment. When you are open, genuine, fun, positive and honest, that helps to create an extremely positive vibe that automatically makes others feel better.

What’s great about being intentionally encouraging is that it works both ways. On those days that you need a little extra encouragement of your own, there will be plenty of others whom you’ve encouraged that will step up and help you feel a little better!

You can do it! Be a force of positive good in your classrooms and your colleagues. Every little bit of positive energy – especially at this time of year – goes a long way!

What’s something encouraging that someone has done for you lately? Share with us in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website