Two years ago, I entered a new job at yet another high school. As I have changed school districts several times in my career, this is not a new experience. I needed to both establish my classroom and my in-school resources. This meant making social connections with the teachers around me.
I find it necessary, especially in the beginning, to have these connections. Teachers are the lifeblood of their schools, and other teachers can help me answer questions, and learn the local school culture. There is always someone who has been teaching in this district, and maybe this school forever, and there is always someone in your content area and/or your grade level who is more than willing to help the new teacher. Do not discount the power of knowing the other staff too! They are a font of knowledge for who to go to for what. In my case, building work friends is how I survive the first few months in a new area.
As if this wasn’t reason enough, it is nice to have someone physically near your classroom to trade favors with. One day you will have a test for the students and will need to go to the bathroom. One day you might be running 5 minutes late. One day you will need headache pain meds or a cup of coffee. Familiar right? Everyone deals with this, so let us lessen that burden by making nearby friends.
The easiest way to begin these teacher relationships is to ask for help. No matter where you are in your education career, going to a nearby teacher and asking for advice or possibly supplies will immediately start building a relationship. It can feel very vulnerable to ask for help on day one, but teachers live by helping others and are generally more willing to assist than the average person. Make sure it doesn’t involve much effort on their side though. You just want to make a connection and not burden your coworker. Drop by the classroom of your most curmudgeonly teacher. Ask for a whiteboard marker, or advice about a student, or situation, or ask them to read over an email for you. Even if they cannot fulfill your request, they will try to help in some fashion. It is human nature to have a positive group dynamic. Therefore your reaching out for help will at minimum help them be a lesser grump when greeting you and maybe even help them reach out to you for help later.
In this first conversation, I also always state that I’d like to return the favor and ask how I can do that. Sometimes I offer to hang something or to help them arrange desks next time, or my specialty is finding and storing lesson materials which I will always offer to do. It is fine if the assistance comes in the form of a rain check but that offer should be out there.
Once you have completed the initial request for assistance, the next step is easy. Drop by their classroom a few times to say hello or ask about their day. You could possibly discuss the behavior of various students or talk about challenges and successes so the other teacher has an open space to do the same. On one particularly bad day this year, I went by a teacher’s classroom during prep and asked just to rant at them about my day for a moment. Getting it off my chest helped me be less reactive with the students, and showed the teacher how important the teacher is to me.
There are many reasons to make connections with the teachers around you. Even with the most difficult teachers, it can often be useful to have an ally. Discussion about students helps put together plans for the teacher/student interventions and provides more support in a parent meeting. A connection with another teacher is ultimately helpful for not just you but your students as well. I have never seen a moment where building a connection with the teachers around me has been negative – so we all need to do better at making those connections.
Ready for some homework? (I know. Eye roll. But still, we all know homework serves a purpose. Time to practice what we preach!) Go to a teacher you have never or rarely interacted with, and ask them something even if it’s asking for a pencil or marker, The act of asking and the ensuing small discussion about why you need it opens the door a bit. Check-in with them tomorrow or the day after to thank them earnestly and ask about something else. These small conversations will build into a work-friendship that will help you in small or maybe large ways. Go! Do it now!
Share this post!