Happy Teacher Series: Form Relationships with Your Coworkers

How forming working relationships with your coworkers can make or break you as a teacher.
Let's be honest for a moment and talk about our colleagues, your grade level teammates more specifically. Your teammates can make or break you as a teacher. When you work with wonderful people you often feel wonderful about yourself and your school, but when you don't get along with your teammates it can make work a nightmare.

There are some colleagues that you can instantly bond with. Maybe you already knew them from outside of school or maybe you share a common thought process that makes you instant teaching besties. If you are able to form these instant bonds then count yourself lucky, take care of your work friends, and carry on, but not everyone is this lucky.

I have been incredibly fortunate in that I have had some of the most amazing teammates a teacher could ask for. Some of who I would consider to be my life long friends I met through teaching. I was pretty spoiled sailing through the years with this great group, but then one colleague kind of tried to break us up.

It was only a couple of days before school started one year and due to enrollment changes we got a new teammate that moved from another grade level. At first I was really excited because this teacher had an outstanding reputation for being an amazing teacher and their unique way of reaching all students. I thought it was going to be amazing to swap ideas with them and grow together, and at first it was.

Then something shifted. A couple of months into the school year things started going all wrong for our team. The original four of us weren't as close as we used to be, we seemed to have kind of split into two sets of two. We used to all eat lunch together, but that had ended too. Our new team member seemed to be the only one that got along well with everyone, and frankly it was depressing because I really liked all five of us. Team meetings were awkward and we didn't seem to have the free flowing idea sharing that I had loved so much.

After way too long of this uncomfortable feeling had gone on, a change had to be made. I started making a more conscious effort to build or rebuild relationships with all of my teammates, because frankly we needed one another. This split up thing was for the birds. I started with our new teammate since they were who I knew the least and then extended my efforts to our whole team. After about a month of really trying to make things work there was a noticeable shift. We were getting back to that place of collaboration that we had begun the year at and it was wonderful and I was a much happier teacher.

Happy Teachers Build Relationships with Colleagues

I am not going to say that building relationships with your colleagues is easy, because it is work, but it is vital to your well being as well as the success of your students. There are many ways that you can work to build relationships, but here are some ways that I have found work extremely well, especially if you are coming from an awkward place. 

Start with the Odd Person Out

Often we are friends with our colleagues and when someone new enters the picture it is hard to see where they are going to fit in. Really though, the onus is on us, the established team, to make sure that our new teammate feels welcomed and valued. 

I have always loved getting to know my teammates outside of school first, as a person. My first year our team leader hosted a breakfast at her house the week before we went back to inservice which was wonderful. It was so nice to get to know everyone just a little before we had to get our hands dirty with the school year. This was also a gesture that meant we all met on an even playing field and were ready to get down to business.

The odd person out though isn't always new to the team. Sometimes there are teammates that either alienate themselves, or just don't fit in with the team automatically, but it is important that we make sure everyone is included and heard just as we would want our students to do. 

How forming working relationships with your coworkers can make or break you as a teacher. During team meeting ask thoughtful questions of anyone who doesn't seem to be speaking up and listen intently. Just because someone is quiet doesn't mean they don't have amazing ideas. Your whole team will be all that much stronger when everyone has a chance to contribute. 

Talk it Out

Sometimes uncomfortable situations come up. It just can't be helped. We might play superheroes for our students during the day, but we are all humans with feelings that get hurt. When this does happen be upfront with the individual, or people, and let them know how you are feeling. Absolutely no one benefits from someone feeling hurt or embarrassed. 

With this being said, this isn't license to make everything about you and cause everyone to have to walk on eggshells and bend to your every whim. Consider everyone's feelings and take into account how your actions will affect others. 

I had another teammate that frankly he and I were a lot alike personality wise. We both have what I will call strong leadership skills, and we butted heads, a lot if I am being honest. The wonderful thing about our working relationship though was it was always settled the same day. One of us would be a little bit of a soul crusher towards the other (and it went both ways depending on the day) but by the end of the day we would be in one of our classrooms hashing it out and laughing by the time we left. Both of our abilities to leave (most) emotion out of the situation and talk it out really saved us, and for that we became much more productive teammates. 

When it comes to communication I will always be a strong advocate for face to face interactions. Email, texts, and phone calls are all great for distance, but if you are in the same building as someone take the time to talk to them. This way you are much less likely to have a misunderstanding based on tone and it is more sincere. 

Share Triumphs and Defeats

When it comes to teaching there are a whole lot of defeats, but they make our triumphs that much sweeter. Come together with your teammates and talk about what everyone is struggling with. The adage two heads are better than one isn't around for no reason, and four or five teacher brains can accomplish monumental feats. Put your pride aside and ask your teammates when you need help. It humanizes you and allows your teammates the chance to shine.

On this same note, share in triumphs. Our team liked to start our weekly PLC meetings with each person sharing something that was rocking in their classroom. This served two purposes. The first being that it started our meeting on a positive note and kept our thoughts in a positive direction. The second being that we knew who to go talk to on the team when we were struggling with the exact thing our teammate was finding success in.

Wrapping Up

The long and the short of it is we need our teammates to survive teaching. They may not always be who we would have chosen, but it is important that we value them and think of them as our peers. We will all be much happier teachers for it! 

For more ideas on becoming a happier teacher, check out 11 Things Happy Teachers Don't Do.

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