There’s nothing more exciting and more anxiety-ridden than entering your school for the first time. It’s filled with limitless potential. You are going to spend a significant part of your life in that building. You will work, eat, and sometimes sleep there. You’ll even end up with a favorite bathroom.
Stand outside your school and take a good look at it and consider all people who have a connection to that building.
You will get to know dedicated professionals who have been performing their craft at a high level for years, and you will meet people who are taking their first steps in the field of education. You will make lifelong friends, and you will probably undergo some tension with others.
These people will become like your family, so it will benefit you to build positive relationships with them. I’d like to suggest nine actions you can take to help you thrive in your building relationships.
1. Respect Everyone’s Time
In addition to teachers, you will work with principals, custodians, paraprofessionals, secretaries, cafeteria staff, and crossing guards. Everyone time is valuable. At staff meetings, be sure your question or comment is relevant beyond yourself. Don’t interrupt a busy secretary because you feel your question takes precedence. Be careful of how much time you spend chit-chatting and be aware of how often you barge into your colleagues’ classrooms just to socialize. Respect people’s time just like you want them to honor yours.
2. Make a Best Teacher Friend
You need a colleague that you confide in so that you can, get advice, laugh, cry, celebrate, brainstorm, and blow off steam. Your BTF (Best Teacher Friend) will listen when you complain about admin, parents, testing, the duty schedule, and a million other things. Much of what happens in school must stay in school, so your BTF will help you get through the tough times that you cannot discuss outside of the professional community. Be sure to remember that good friends listen to one another. Listen compassionately and keep to yourself what others tell you in confidence.
3. Avoid The Drama
Schools have a significant amount of drama — and not just among the students. You will hear rumors about staffing, families, scheduling, budgets, testing, and more. Gossip, speculation, and hearsay will fly from one end of the building to the other in a heartbeat. Ignore it like the plague. Getting caught up in any unrest is exhausting, counterproductive, and unprofessional. Walk away from the turmoil and focus on what you can control.
4. Keep Your Conversations Professional
Watch what you say and who you say it to. Some information is legally confidential, and you have an ethical responsibility to maintain privacy. Incidents will arise with students, staff, parents, volunteers, and admin that do not concern everyone. The best way to avoid misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and trouble for yourself is to keep your conversations professional.
5. Collaborate as Much a Possible
This job is too big for just one person. Rely on the ideas and expertise of everyone in your building. I invited my school’s principal’s secretary in to read to my class. A speech therapist came into my room to help two of my second graders with writing; she brought a unique perspective that improved everyone’s writing and my teaching. One of my colleagues asked our building manager to take her class on a “field trip” to some of the behind-the-scenes areas of the school, like the elevator room, to show real-life uses of simple machines. Your life will be easier and your teaching will be better if you join forces with the skilled co-workers in your building.
6. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Teachers
Each teacher has their own style and strengths. You’re just getting started, so don’t expect you’ll be as proficient as colleagues who have been teaching for 20 years. At the same time, you will have ideas that they have not considered. Be yourself. You do not have to imitate anyone. Assume that everyone — including yourself — is doing their best. Trust that you have been hired because you are the right person for this job, and understand that you still have much to learn.
7. Celebrate Achievements and Share the Credit
Your colleagues want to share in your joy when your students grow, flourish, and overcome challenges. They know how much satisfaction you must feel when you experience success. Please understand that others played a part in your pedagogical accomplishments. Celebrate that amazing lesson, and thank the teammates who helped you prepare. Tell the counselor how your students use the skills she has been emphasizing. Express your gratitude to your students’ previous teachers for preparing them for this year. Realize that several people contribute to your student’s academic successes and social growth.
8. Small Gifts Make Big Difference
Small, thoughtful gifts generate good will. My teammates often gave treats to one another throughout the school year just to show they cared. At the start of each school year, I brought chocolate to the office staff. I wanted to show my appreciation to this dedicated crew who I relied on to submit lunch count, order supplies, and schedule meetings with admin. Do something small for your teammates, admin, office staff, building staff, and aides. They will appreciate you, and you will build up positive feelings that will make your building a happier place.
9. Be Patient
Relationships take time. You won’t know everyone’s name at the end of the first week — or month. Some of your colleagues have been friends for years. They have shared students, participated in meetings together, and watched each other’s families grow. You can’t achieve that in the first quarter. During my first year, I worked with a team that had been together for three years. They spoke in a kind of shorthand. I felt lost for a while, but I caught on as time progressed. No one expects you to know everything right away. You may feel like you’re in a whirlwind right now, but persevere and you will become more at ease as the year unfolds.
Your school is special place filled with hopes, dreams, fears, love, anxiety, failure, and success. In this way, it’s a microcosm of life.
When you build relationships with people in your building, you will succeed as an educator and your students will thrive. You can do it. I believe in you.
Part 3: Professional Development
Part 4: Self-Care for Teachers