I’ve heard it said before that 'no man is an island.' I’m not sure where you’re at in your teaching journey, your current school or teaching staff but there is an important truth in this statement that we're not meant to be isolated or alone. I believe this is not only a statement that is relevant for society today, but especially relevant for all teachers. In an age of social media, 24 hour news cycles and the ability to instantly connect with others research would show that the quality of relationship is at an all-time low and it appears that we as a society are more disconnected than ever before.
One thing I've heard from so many teachers is the idea that they feel alone or without anyone to support them that knows exactly how they feel.
Have you ever felt like this, lonely?
I know I certainly have at many stages in my teaching journey. When working alongside much more 'experienced' teachers I felt at times like I was crumbling under the massive job that lay ahead of me as a teacher. Let’s be honest, our job isn’t easy and at times the work seems to never end.
No one expects you to have all the answers and know everything there is to know about teaching, so make the most of the opportunities you get to learn from those further on in their teaching journey and those that inspire and encourage you as a teacher.
One of the biggest influences on our lives is the people we are connected to and those we allow to input into our lives. Relationships are a critical part of our lives and influence not only what we do, but what we believe and ultimately who we are. As a teaching community we are better together and it's so important to connect yourself with teachers further on in their career that you want to be like. Attitude is contagious and you will become like those you spend your time with, whether you want to or not! Our relationships are either going to grow us or dampen us.
Everyone needs a role model or someone to aspire to. As a teacher it's important that you look for more other teachers that you can glean from, lean on and grow from. Think about the colleagues that you work with in your current school, who is it that you would like to be more like? Hopefully you can think of someone or perhaps think back to when you were at school. Who was the teacher that made the biggest difference in your life?
It's important to be connected to those who have been teaching longer than you have. Too often I hear stories of teachers leaving the professional and one of the number one reasons for this is they felt unsupported, alone or isolated. In my experience so far I've learnt the importance of connecting myself to other teachers that I want to be like, but the one thing I have realised is that it wasn't anyone else's responsibility to connect with me, it was my responsibility to connect with them.
I believe it was John Donne who wrote the words; "no man is an island..." and I totally agree with this statement. To put it simply, we weren't meant to try and do it on our own and that's why I believe it's so important to find someone who shares the same boat as you. It's absolutely critical for every teacher to find someone that they can relate to, because nobody knows what it's like to be a teacher like another teacher. It's important for you as a teacher to build strong relationships with others on their journey as a teacher too.
Whether you've got questions or concerns, ideas or strategies you want to share, a good relationship with other teachers who are passionate and love their job will prove invaluable as the support you'll provide for one another will not only encourage and inspire you, but equip you to be a better teacher.
If you're lucky enough to have other teachers on staff at your school in a similar situation or setting to you then start to build strong relationships with them first, not only will they understand what it's like to be a teacher navigating their teaching journey, they'll also be able to understand the unique culture and structure that is particular to your school. If there aren't any other teachers who you feel a connection with on staff with you or if you're a Casual Teacher, then make the most of every opportunity to network with others. Make it a priority to attend Professional Development courses and exchange contact details or make the most of the current boom in social media and network with other teachers through online communities.
So connect yourself to those teachers you want to be like and make the most of the connection by:
All teachers have a wealth of knowledge and experiences which you can gain from. Make the most of the opportunities you to glean from colleagues and ask questions. There's no such thing as a silly question, so if there's something you're not sure of or you don't know just ask. Ask questions about anything and everything from planning/programming to behaviour management. No topic should be off-limits and no question should go unanswered (unless you don't ask it). Ask other teachers about their greatest achievements, their mistakes and what keeps them in the professional, then use their responses to better yourself and your teaching.
Watching and observing what other teachers do (or don't do) can teach you just as much as asking questions and having a conversation with them. It's easy to keep your eyes focussed on what you're doing inside your classroom, but make a conscious effort to extend your eyes and vision to what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. Use what you see to think critically about what you are doing and use what you see to make a difference in your teaching. Also in saying this there is power in observations you make of teachers who you possibly don't want to be like, every observation you make has the power to enhance or improve what you do as a teacher, as long as you let it.
The key ingredient to gleaning and learning from other teachers is your attitude and willingness to be 'teachable'. It's up to you take on board the answers, observations and feedback you gain from more experienced teachers. I'd challenge to open yourself up to receive professional feedback and critiquing from your colleagues. Give them the opportunity and permission to help improve your teaching by taking on board their observations of your teaching practice and their recommendations also. As teachers we are working in an ever-increasing environment of change and if we want to remain effective and relevant in our teaching we will need to be 'teachable' and willing to change what we do.
Share your success and the things that have worked for you. Your success might be the answer to another teacher's problem. Encourage one another and congratulate your colleagues for the goals they've kicked, as a teacher and as a friend. Share your ideas and the strategies you've used to improve your teaching practice and what you've done to increase your effectiveness as a teacher.
Don't be afraid to be honest about the challenges you're facing. Your fellow teachers may be facing the exact same challenge that you are facing or they may have already solved the exact problem you are trying to tackle. Also, never be afraid to admit the mistakes you've made along the way, the lessons you've learnt from the mistakes that you've made may just save a fellow Teacher from a whole lot of trouble.
Be Self-aware: It’s so important to know where you’re at mentally and emotionally as a teacher. Just like our cars run on petrol we as teachers run on our passion for the job. However, sometimes the tank gets a little low and we need to refuel. Its times like this that we need to seek out those we want to be like and those who energise us. Remember passion is contagious and sometimes all we need is a fresh injection of enthusiasm from those we are connected to.
This is by far the most important thing you can do for your mental and emotional health, but also the most difficult thing of all to do. There’s been a huge stigma in society about asking for help, but I think teachers are by far the worst at asking for help and seeking support when needed. As teachers we place so much pressure on ourselves to keep it all together and have everything perfect, but it’s so important to seek support when needed from those colleagues you have close relationships with, but also from your school executive. I’ve heard so many people say they feel like they can’t be honest with their supervisors or management about where they’re at and asking for help in times of need. I’ve also been in this position as a teacher myself and know the fears of being honest and worrying that they might not renew your contract, or support you with a good reference.
However, I’ve learnt that good teachers and happy teachers and teachers who are well supported. Life happens to all of us, even your executive staff and we all need to seek support from those around us when we need it. It saddens me to hear this as a school leader as I believe our school teams and communities should be like a family. As a leader I am not only responsible for ensuring that the teachers I supervise do their jobs well, but I believe it’s my job to support them through every season to do their job well.
I mentioned it earlier, but you become like those you spend your time with. It’s important to reflect on who we spend our time with and how those relationships affect us mentally and emotionally. I can’t emphasise it enough that it’s so important to protect and guard your heart and passion for teaching. We can’t avoid negative personas, but we can choose to filter what we allow into our lives as teachers.
Similarly, it’s important that we think carefully about what we bring to the relationships in our own lives. Reflect on yourself as a teacher and ask the questions, “Would I want other teachers to be like me?” or “Are others around me better off because they have me in their world?” Hopefully the answer to these questions is a resounding YES! I know these are two things I aspire to achieve every day with my students and with the staff at our school. Take stock of your words, actions and attitude and remember to add to those around you.
The idea of building relationships with other teachers is not just to complain and vent about your problems, but to inspire and encourage one another. Keep a positive outlook despite your challenges and seek to build others up, this will ensure your relationships with your colleagues go from strength to strength, because we’re always better together.
Be happy & teach well!