Trusting the people you work with is more difficult in a teaching position than you might think. Job security is also different in a teaching profession. Finally, while teachers are not necessarily competitive, they are human. Check out the following scenarios and imagine how you would feel or react:
- One of your students tells you that you aren’t as nice as another teacher in the school.
- An administrator has gone to one of your coworkers and asked them questions about how you are “working out” for the department.
- You are having trouble with a student (homework is not turned in, causing interruptions in class) and the student’s parents tell you that you are the only teacher who thinks their daughter/son is a bad student.
These scenarios are not unusual. In fact, they all occurred for me in one week of teaching. But these are the types of incidents that make it hard to establish trusting relationships with coworkers. They are the types of incidents that can escalate quickly and make your life far more miserable than it should be. Read on for the trust problem of each scenario:
- Jealousy does not naturally inspire trust. Every teacher would love to be the favorite; but by definition, only one teacher can be. Children will be children – just imagine some of the things you said to your parents. Every teacher also wants to do a good job – and a student will work harder in a class if they like the teacher. (There will be a future post on teacher popularity!)
- The administrator is likely simply checking on how you are working with your coworkers, making sure that you have the support you need to do your job – that is THEIR job. But hearing about a “secret conversation” secondhand can make a teacher unreasonably fearful, and does not inspire trust.
- Will your administrator and coworkers back you up when you talk to the student and parents, or not? If you do not trust the people you work with to be in your corner, you can feel extremely alone at work. Worse, if you do not trust your administrator enough to go to them for help, you may not get the issue resolved. Oh no! The student and their parents will hate you forever! You will be fired!
Okay, we jumped to the worst-case scenario there pretty quickly. The point that I would like to make is that a school is a shared community – every student, parent, teacher, and administrator NEEDS to be connected to each other in order for ANYTHING to work. I honestly believe that building trusting relationships will help, significantly. Here is one more example for you:
Back when I was pursuing a graduate degree, I conducted a research study in which I went to several different schools to interview a principal and a teacher from each. The interview asked the same questions to all participants, but from principal and teacher points of view. The questions regarded the relationship between teacher and administrator; and included inquiries about teacher observation and evaluation, as well as communication throughout the school year. Without fail, each participant responded that they would like to know more about the others’ perspective and that they would like to have more communication with the other. Also without fail, each participant seemed to be waiting for the other to make the first move. Which brings me to my major recommendations this week:
One: Communicate expansively from the very beginning of your teaching job. Ask questions of your co-workers, let the principal know if you have any worries, let the principal and parents know your plan for your classroom, email several parents with personal updates each week.
Two: Continue communicating honestly with your mentors – your former teachers, for example. They know teaching, and they also know YOU. They can help you find more ways to be successful in your position.
Three: Let the people around you know that you trust them, to be good workers and good humans. Do not be afraid to admit you are having trouble – after all, you get what you ask for.
Next week’s post, “Why Discipline is Dangerous,” will begin the discussion that you never got in college. In honor of Halloween week, I may share some scary stories from my own classroom – but all in the name of empathy and progress. In the meantime, if you want more, see below!
Have your own stories or advice to share about building a strong communicative foundation? Please enter comments below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a post you would like added to the guest posts section!
Want more? Check out Education Northwest’s booklet on building trusting relationships: http://educationnorthwest.org/sites/default/files/trust.pdf