Did you take a course on building professional relationships in your teacher education program? If you did, you’re in the minority. Building professional relationships is important, but it’s not something people always think about…until there is a problem.
Healthy relationships are intentional – with family, with friends, and with co-workers. If we aren’t careful, it can be easy to fall prey to relationship busters. Focusing solely on our own desires and needs, thinking we have the only right way to do something, gossiping about co-workers…these are all just a handful of the bad habits that can leave us feeling isolated and unhappy at work.
So, if we want to build healthy professional relationships, we need to be purposeful. Here are a few approaches that have helped me over the years.
1. Follow the golden rule.
Never say something behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t say to his or her face. It can be tempting to be lured into the latest drama. In the moment, it might feel exciting, like you’re in on an exclusive secret. Afterward, however, gossip often leads to feelings of insecurity and anxiety. As teachers, we need to ask ourselves, Is what we are saying kind and loving? Is it helpful and uplifting? If not, we shouldn’t say it, text it, email it, or post it.
2. Go directly to the source.
A lot of gossip stems from one person’s frustration with another. Instead of talking to a friend about what the teacher next door did, talk to the teacher next door. Part of building professional relationships is being willing to have the hard conversations. This one can be challenging because we all want to confide in a friend when it comes to aggravations. Still, if someone were annoyed with me, I would want to hear it from them, not someone else. Wouldn’t you?
3. Get to know your colleagues.
One of the best ways to develop healthy work relationships is by taking time to truly know your co-workers. Time is not a luxury many teachers have, but without a solid foundation, the relationships will be rocky or superficial at best. In many ways, it’s very similar to our relationships with students. We have to invest our time and attention in order to make progress.
It can be simple. Ask the teachers in your building about their kids, their hobbies, their vacations, their dreams, their favorite lessons. Ask them where they shop or if they want to go on a walk after work. Sit by them at lunch or swing by their room in between class periods just to say hi. Being attentive is important when it comes to developing professional relationships.
4. Be an encourager.
People appreciate being around someone who is positive and helpful. That’s not to say we can’t have a bad day. We do; everyone does! But, when we are positive the majority of the time, we are a blessing to other people.
Find out what kind of breakfast treat your co-workers like, and randomly bring them a surprise. Write a note of thank you or encouragement. Make it a point to study what they do well, and point it out to them. If you hear students saying positive things about a teacher, pass it along. Acknowledge the effort, dedication, and love they put into their work. Instead of saying Thank you, say, You really made a difference, and here is why. Encouragement goes a long way toward promoting healthy professional relationships.
5. Have an open mind.
Be open to new ideas. Many professional relationship tensions are a result of differences in opinion. Try a new teaching approach if it will draw you nearer to your staff. Make an effort to look at a situation from someone else’s perspective. When we get too wrapped up in convincing others we are right, we end up pushing people away.
6. Get involved.
Offer to help supervise, volunteer, or attend after school activities if you can. Just being there and making conversation with others outside of the school day takes your relationship to a deeper level. Try to serve on various committees so that you have the opportunity to meet people in different circles.
7. Be inclusive.
And finally, make sure your circle isn’t too small. It’s natural to gravitate toward a certain friend group, but if we are so exclusive that our staff feels like it has high school cliques or like it could be the sequel to Mean Girls, then we need to reconsider how our circles may be negatively impacting relationships and school climate.
Professional relationships are easier to build when staff members have an attitude of acceptance and inclusion for all members. After all, each person brings unique talents, strengths, and gifts to the table. Let’s embrace those differences.
Are you building professional relationships intentionally? If not, taking some time to reflect on ways you can grow this school year might be a game changer. While we might not have received any professional training on the topic, seeking wisdom from teachers who know – even from those who have learned the hard way – can help us be deliberate.
For more ideas about maintaining meaningful work relationships, visit Lauralee at Language Arts Classroom. She has you covered.