My first year at a new school was jammed packed with responsibilities and new challenges. With a few weeks in, I saw an event on the school calender. It would be nice to take a break on a Friday for a fun event called Blue/White Day. Our school colors served as a way to divide students into two teams to compete in team building, whole school, feel-good activities. Sounded great – until I showed up that morning. Knowing it was an out-of-uniform day for students and faculty alike, I sported a navy blue t-shirt with a pair of khaki shorts. Close enough to blue and white, I thought, and I was excited to take part in such a great school tradition. My mood quickly changed, for the second I walked in the door, students on the “white team” were horrified at my betrayal. My colleagues casually looked me over and said, “You know, as teachers – we are supposed to be neutral – picking a team color is a bad idea.” No, I didn’t know! I actually had no idea. How did I miss this? I was so super focused on trying to stay afloat my first year, I totally forgot to do one of the most important things. I forgot to talk to my colleagues.
I barely had enough time to get it together for homeroom, let alone chat it up with the colleagues. Every second of my day was packed. The mornings were filled with running around – trying to find my attendance slips, photocopying or lab equipment setup. During lunch, I was either eating with the students at my assigned table or trying to catch up with student issues. After school, I was either coaching, working with students, calling parents, cleaning my science lab or trying to lesson plan for the next day. Even with that schedule, I still felt that I was so far behind.
I began trying to get to school ten minutes earlier, so that instead of sitting in my office or classroom, I could stop for a few minutes at other teachers’ doors to say hello and check in. On days when the mornings were just too jam packed, I made sure that after lunch was spent walking back to the classroom with a colleague. After a long day of teaching, I’d plop myself on the floor outside of my classroom and strike up a conversation with anyone who would listen. I let that fear go that I would be perceived as one of “those teachers who sure waste a lot of time chatting” and adopted a new mentality. “I am a part of a TEAM here, and we all have a lot to share and learn from each other. Start listening”.
Although I did I become a little less productive during the school day, this change improved my work environment and morale tremendously. I looked forward to a few moments with colleagues after school or during break. I developed great relationships that provided great emotional and professional support. We shared stories about students, struggles, and success.
If you are finding a certain part of your professional life as a teacher lacking, I am encouraging you to meet a colleague or two. Start by taking a little more time to say hello as you walk to your classroom. Try to let them know that you admire the decorations in their classroom. Comment on an activity you saw them doing in the hall. Ask them how their weekend went. The best way to learn about your school’s culture is to begin investing in relationships with colleagues. Appreciate their differences and take notice of the similarities. Great collaboration can start with the simplest of conversations. Even more importantly, value them and the relationships you are creating. We are educators. We invest in our students – we should start investing in each other as well. One of the best things you can do for those students is develop a relationship with other teachers, and find emotional and professional support during your day.