When preacher and poet John Donne proclaimed in the 17th Century that, “No man is an island”, he might just as easily have been talking about teaching in the 21st Century.
An older and wiser teacher once said to me: “It is possible to teach (and to thrive teaching) really tough classes, if you have supportive and positive colleagues, but a timetable full of dream classes will not make up for a lack of collegiality.”
Whilst this might seem out of your control, there are some actions you can take to promote positive and collegial relationships.
First of all, LOOK FOR YOUR PEOPLE – look for the staff who obviously enjoy their job, who like their students, who laugh and who make positive contributions to discussions, meetings and projects. SPEND TIME WITH THESE PEOPLE – eat lunch with them, sit next to them in staff meetings, seek out their advice when you have a problem. Grow this group of people, so that this approach becomes the norm in your school. As people are generous with their time, resources and support, be looking for the ways in which you can reciprocate.
This brilliant post from the Cult of Pedagogy develops this idea even further.
It is important to find supportive colleagues within your subject area. (If this is lacking within your own department, look for positive colleagues within your community of learning, nearby schools and subject association). But equally, branch out and look beyond your department to other staff in the school
Some of the most important relationships you will develop at school are with support staff.
Support staff in schools include:
- Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator (SENCO)
- Teacher Aide
- Classroom technicians
- Resource Room Team
- Attendance Officers
- Social Workers in Schools (SWiS)
- School Nurse (and sometimes Doctor)
- Careers Adviser
- Sports Coordinator
- Property Managers / Caretakers
- Canteen Staff
These are the staff who enable the school to run and teachers to do their jobs. Unfortunately, they are often underappreciated and a lot of their work goes unacknowledged. Having good relationships with these colleagues ultimately enables you to do your job better.
Here are a few tips for growing positive relationships with support staff:
- If you need something, ask politely. If they have a system for getting in touch and requesting support, maintenance, making a referral etc then use the system. (Don’t just throw it into the conversation while they’re drinking their morning coffee – or before!) This makes their job so much easier.
- Don’t presume your job is more important than the other work on their ‘to do’ list. Try to avoid emergencies and time pressure.
- Take the time to say thank you. Make the effort – go out of your way to say thanks in person or to flick a quick email when support staff do something for you and especially when they have gone above and beyond the call of duty. You would be surprised how often this doesn’t happen and what a difference it makes.
Support staff can make your job so much easier (the name says it all really), and life at school so much better. They bring diverse skills to enrich school life and in my experience, a lot of fun. Being collegial with all staff is a small investment for a big payoff.