By Teachers, For Teachers
Your relationships with your fellow teachers are likely to last far longer than any of your relationships with students. Even though we spend the majority of our time, care, and attention on fostering positive relationships with the students we see every day, it’s just as important that we spend time relationship building with our colleagues.
Our colleagues are our teammates, our partners, our collaborators, our biggest pains and our biggest allies, working hard each day in their classrooms just like us. Positive relationship building with these folks can make a world of difference when it comes to improving our own practice and making our school a better, more effective environment for our students.
But often we take these relationships for granted. We focus on our students, ignore others around us, and even allow negative perceptions to infiltrate our way of thinking about others. But teaching can feel isolated enough as it is – we don’t need to ostracize ourselves from those who are most likely to be our biggest supporters and friends.
Consider some of these ideas for interacting with peers at your school building.
The convenience of e-mail is a double-edged sword. While we can asynchronously communicate thoughts to colleagues and reap all the benefits of electronic communication, we sacrifice that face-to-face contact. Relationships are best built face-to-face and side-by-side, but e-mail waters down the relational impact of our message.
Try this: When you have the chance, instead of sending an e-mail, go and find the person you want to communicate to. It doesn’t matter if your message is profound or simple – but go and communicate to that person face-to-face. Even if the person is on the other side of your building, track them down and talk. You don’t have to completely abort sending e-mails, but consider email as Plan B.
They say that “Imitation is a form of flattery,” and it’s true that one of the highest compliments you can pay a fellow teacher is to ask what’s working for them and then use it yourself. This doesn’t mean that you undermine a teacher by stealing their idea; it means you say, “What did you do for _____________ that worked well for you? Can I do that too?”
When you ask for someone else’s input and advice, you automatically show respect for their perspective. We all work hard and have our share of successes – isn’t it nice to be recognized every once in a while for that? Step out and recognize someone else, and gain some valuable teacher knowledge in the process.
Our face-to-face connections during the workday are priceless, but we can expand on those even further when we engage with colleagues through social media. This doesn’t mean that we merely share pictures of our children and pets during off hours; it means that we utilize these social media tools to professionally engage with one another beyond the school walls.
Consider sharing thoughts and links with colleagues via Twitter. Or create a blog where you document your successes and failures with things you’re working on in the classroom. Or pin useful tips and materials on one another’s Pinterest boards. Take your relationship to the digital level where you can share more materials and more thoughts than you might during your normal school hours.
The advantage to doing something alone is that we get it done our way, on our schedule. As teachers we’ve learned to trust ourselves and develop strong opinions about our perspective. But let that go and invite others into your task. If you’re developing a new project for your classroom, initiating a committee for your staff, reimagining how you support your weakest students, or considering presenting at a conference, invite others to work on these with you.
You feel good when you personally accomplish something. But you feel great when you’re part of a team that accomplishes something. This involves a little bit of your letting go of the specific vision you have for the project; but the payoff results with a huge boost in your collaborative spirit and firmer relationship with those you’ve worked alongside.
Get together with your colleagues outside of school, even if it’s in a way that you wouldn’t ordinarily want to do. Sharing time together – especially over some food – is a great way to reinforce the bonds you have. Talk about school, vent about problems, laugh about mistakes, talk about families, hobbies, and dreams. Be a part of the social conversation that is going on at your school. Even just by showing up, your presence communicates you care about the other people who are there.
It’s easy to remember the basics: say please and thank you, hold open the door, and smile when you pass in the hallway. We do these even for people whom we don’t especially appreciate. But go the extra mile with your kindness and manners towards everyone. Handwrite thank you notes, buy birthday gifts, bring treats, volunteer for that inconvenient task, deal with the situation that’s “Not your problem,” genuinely listen, buy teachers’ kids’ fundraising wreaths, let others have their way, and don’t expect any of this in return.
Putting yourself out there in these ways lets others know that they can trust you, you can trust them, and lays a solid foundation for respect and collaboration down the road. If you want to build relationships with others, it starts with how you treat everyone else.
When teachers work well together, everyone in the school benefits. And since your relationships with your colleagues are long term, the benefits your school gains are long term as well. Imagine how much students stand to gain when their teachers share ideas, respect one another, work together, and contribute to a positive academic environment. It all begins with strong relationships laying the foundation for momentous achievements.
How do you build relationships with your colleagues? What are your favorite methods, activities, or traditions? Share with us in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.