“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt.
I don’t know if you’ve heard this quote before, but it is one that has stuck with me for many years now and one that has proven itself true in my life time and time again. You see, everything we do as teachers is based on relationships. Our role as a teacher is huge and there are so many things that we do, but it’s all based on relationships. Whether its students, staff, parents or the wider community, the quality of our relationships is what makes all the difference.
I’ve mentioned the power of working in community and staying connected in previous blog and I can’t emphasise this point enough. But I want to focus on the quality of the relationships that we hold as teachers. It’s Week 6 of Term 4 here in NSW and if you’re anything like me I know your ‘end of year to do list’ will be growing at a rapid rate. On top of this the pressure of report system is sure to be raising the tension amongst staff, but we can’t afford as teacher to miss the importance of building and maintaining positive relationships.
Our relationships will serve us well or cause us headaches. I’ve learnt this lesson over the years that everything I do is influenced by the quality of the relationships I have in the classroom with my students, amongst my colleagues that I teach with and the parents and community that I engage with. So it’s crucial that we as teachers remember to priorities relationships over tasks. I’ve learnt this even more so in my role as a leader in my school and previous schools I’ve worked with.
I’ve seen teachers and school leaders challenge, encourage and motivate their students and staff to tackle new challenges and these staff respond by going beyond the call of duty. Then on the other hand I’ve seen teachers and school leaders do the exact same thing, but met with resistance, conflict and refusal. It made me wonder, what was the difference in this situation and upon speaking to many staff it was the relationship (or lack of) that brought about their response.
You see relationships are a powerful!
They will bring us great joy or great pain, great pleasure or great frustration. Like everything we do we only get out what we put in. The quality of the relationships we have are a direct result of how much we prioritise them and invest into them. We can’t afford to overlook the power of relationships in our role as a teacher. Quality relationships with our students open the door for deep and lasting learning to occur. Quality relationships with our teaching colleagues opens the door to collaboration, inspiration and influence. Quality relationships with parents and the community opens the door to effective partnerships.
There’s an old precept that says “you will reap what you sow” and this is particularly true when it comes to relationships. If want to have quality relationships that means we need to invest heavily into them.
So how do we reap from our relationships? It all comes down to what we sow into them. Here’s some keys on what to sow into your relationships if you want to R.E.A.P. from them;
One of the greatest misconceptions we can have in life is that we don’t need other people. We can do life on our own, however working solo will only get us so far, but I know that I am where I am today in my career and personally because of the people I’ve allowed into my life. They’ve inspired me, motivated me, valued me and at times they’ve hurt me, but all these things have made me who I am today. It’s easy not to trust people or to block people out. The real challenge when building relationships with others is letting people in. If we want to have quality relationships that make your life easier and more fruitful then we need to get good at removing the barriers that prevent us from relating to others.
These are all very real and very complex issues that I’ve struggled with at different stages of my life and all of them will keep me from building relationships that last if I allow them too. Yes relationships are a huge risk because people aren’t perfect, but the benefits of quality relationships far outweigh the cost or risk involved in letting others into your world. The answer, solution, breakthrough, opportunity you are waiting for could be just one relationship away. The simplest thing you can do is start being open to others and allowing them into your world and sharing you who are.
When we speak we have a simple choice to make, will my words build others or wreck them? As teachers our words, no matter who hears them should be words that build others up. Words that speak to their potential and bring out the best in them. Encouragement is more than flattery. Encouragement speaks to people in a much deeper way, it makes a lasting difference beyond the moment when the words were spoken. As teachers how often do we encourage our students or the staff we work with?
Encouragement is more than just saying nice things. It can challenge people and cause them to reflect on where they’re at in contrast to where they want to be. It spurs us on and motivates us to action. I’ll never forget the power of the encouragement that I received from my teachers as a student. You see many of them saw things in me that I never did. My life wasn’t filled with many encouraging words so hearing their words made a last imprint on my life. I personally know the power of encouragement and it’s a big part of the reason I am a teacher today. I want the students, staff and community I work with to be built up and encouraged by my words. I’ll choose to encourage rather than condemn because encouragement brings life to my relationships. This week take stock of your words and choose to use words that will bring life to others and build them not wreck them (even in the hard conversations).
Availability (prioritise others)
One of the greatest things we can do to influence the quality of the relationships we hold is to make them a priority. This is incredibly difficult in a job and world that is so demanding of our time already, but we can’t build and grow our relationships if we don’t make time for them. We need to be available for our students, colleagues and parent community because relationships don’t happen overnight, they take a constant investment of time.
We can’t afford to become too busy for people. As teachers we are in the business of working with people, it’s what teaching is all about. Recently I found myself using the word ‘busy’ a lot. When people would ask how my day was or what the week was like or even how the week ahead was looking. This word had become part of my daily language, but it was becoming a hindrance in my relationships. I was having a conversation with someone who I was mentoring about an issue they were having and their response was “I didn’t want to come and chat because I heard you saying how busy you were at the moment.” This was a slap in the face because my language had made me unavailable.
Are you too busy for people? One thing I’ve come to realise is that the jobs we have to do will always be there, but people won’t. If we aren’t available and prioritising the people in our lives then they will go to someone else. Are you approachable? Are you someone that people feel they can go to and do you have those people in your own life.
As teachers we need to learn to ‘listen well.’ Too often we listen to respond, not listen to understand. People just want to know you’re there for them and that you can make time for them. We need to be open to interruptions because relationships aren’t always convenient. I have a very busy job, but I want the people in my world to always feel like the door is open and they are welcome to come in. Think about yourself this week, are you available for others? Do you stop when others need help? How can you become more available to those in your world?
This is the greatest lesson we can learn when sowing into our relationships because working with people is difficult. No person is perfect and there’s plenty of times I know I’ve been personally hurt or upset by others in the workplace and even by students and parents. However, holding a grudge is never the answer. You see unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. The only person that gets hurt from holding onto hurt is you. It eats us up inside and has a flow-on effect to every other relationship we have, not just the one with the person who caused us pain. Often we spend a lot of time not forgive others for things that they may not even be aware of or we don’t forgive ourselves because we hold ourselves to an unrealistic expectation that we would never expect of others.
Some simple things we can do forgive;
· Don’t keep score
· Don’t boast over others - be aware of your own need to be forgiven
· Don’t complain about what happened- it just brings the issue back
· Don’t separate yourself from the person – stay sweet in their presence
· Speak up when you can – resolution is the greatest solution
I am certainly no expert at relationships, but I’ve realised the power they hold in making my life and career a positive experience. If I want to be an effective and influential teacher and colleague it comes through quality relationships. As teachers we can’t afford to miss this. If I invest heavily into my relationships with my students they will learn, they will be more responsive because they understand who I am and know that I value them. As a leaders and colleague my relationships with staff will give me the opportunity to bring change and see authentic collaboration and partnership flourish because they my colleagues know they are valued and we’re on the same team, working towards the same goal – student growth. Building strong relationships with the parents and the community brings about greater levels of participation and inclusion because they know we value their role in the education process.
If you want to have effective, healthy and productive relationships it requires input. Like I said earlier you will reap from your relationships what you sow into them and unfortunately when it comes to building relationships there’s no shortcuts. It takes time and consistent effort. I saw a powerful post on Instagram recent, it was a t-shirt with the following words written on it, “Love first, teach second.” This sums up perfectly our role as a teacher. Relationships come before anything else.
Choose to invest into your relationships and you’ll reap the benefits. You’ll be glad you did!
Be happy and teach well!