Just when you thought a teacher’s “to do” list couldn’t get any longer, consider this…investing time in developing sound working relationships at school just might be the most important thing you ever do once fully in the role.
Starting out – it’s not just about surviving
When you start out in your teaching career you’re likely to be bombarded with advice about how to survive your first year. This might revolve around subject knowledge, pedagogy, behaviour management, well-being — the list is endless. But isn’t “surviving” too low an ambition considering the amount of time, effort and energy that must go into the job? Surely “thriving” makes more sense as a goal?
If this rings true for you, it’s worth bearing in mind that by far the most important skill to hone as you launch your career is how to create sound working relationships. Without them your task as a teacher could well be more troubled than necessary. Staff working as a team can greatly ease the load of individual teachers and help children to understand that you are all utterly united in your quest to teach them.
Teaching can be a curious experience, though. While you will interact with many people throughout each day, both child and adult, it can also be quite lonely, even isolated. Perhaps this is even more reason to get involved at school; join in as much as possible so you can develop and nurture sound relationships, if only for the sake of your mental and emotional health. After all, Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 focused specifically on the importance of healthy relationships and there are few workplaces where great relationships are as important.
There are plenty of staffroom caricatures out there, depicting teachers as grumpy or argumentative or unapproachable. We’ve heard of new teachers being told not to speak to certain members of staff in case their negativity rubs off and takes the shine off the enthusiasm and energy of those new to the profession. Not so long ago new teachers were frequently told not to use someone else’s mug or use someone else’s tea or coffee and certainly don’t sit in someone else’s chair in the staffroom! These days, we’re less tolerant of such unwelcoming behaviour as mug- and seat-hogging, but the underlying message should remain – take time to get to know your colleagues and your working life will run more smoothly.
Speaking or listening?
Rob Abbott, former teacher and now a psychotherapist and Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood and Education at the University of Chichester has sound advice for new teachers seeking to develop good relationships with their colleagues. “I would say that listening is always much better than speaking,” he explains, “and this applies to pupils as well as to colleagues. Understanding where the other person is coming from is at the centre of my work as a teacher, supervisor and counsellor.”
Are teachers always the best listeners? Well, no, not always. As Rob says, “Just shutting up and listening to how my pupils/students see the world has always been a wonderful way of facilitating learning. Sometimes I forget this and that’s when I become a bad teacher.” And the message is the same when working with colleagues. Learning to listen can take us far.
You’re bound to have questions as you start out and with any luck you’ll be surrounded by those with experience who can help you get on track. “Try asking for advice,” suggests Rob, “especially from those colleagues who seem the most unapproachable! Not only does this help build a good working relationship, but it can also lead to the most unexpected insights.” Asking for help shows that you have the thirst for learning and the humility to listen – the perfect combination for great teachers in the making!
Rob Abbott is the co-author of Child Development and the Brain, Policy Press, 2015