A Truth for Teachers listener named Deb recently wrote me and said,
As I was listening to Dave Burgess’ truth for teachers about collaborating with colleagues who don’t support your creativity, I was thinking about my own situation. I am fortunate to work with 5 other wonderful third grade teachers. The issue we have as a grade level is that we are viewed as and mocked as the “Dream Team” because we are extremely positive and work well together. Our successful collaboration and positive attitude seems to be wedging a divide between us and other grade levels in the school. We see it as unfortunate (and a sign of jealousy). Why not strive to learn and work together instead of mocking? Any suggestions for this issue? Mind you – our team is not perfect, but we are cohesive and evolving.
Deb, you are not alone in this. I interact with a lot of positive, innovative teachers online, and this is a question that I hear from them a lot. They feel very isolated in their schools because their co-workers resent rather than appreciate them.
Here are 6 things to consider as you work to build relationships with coworkers who have felt alienated.
1. Make sure you have a humble heart when talking about your team.
You and your teammates should start by taking time to be reflective and honest about your own behavior and heart attitude. Sometimes there is a subtle pride that surfaces without us realizing it, and we say or do things that we know will make others jealous.
I can recall one year when I had a great team, and another co-worker was complaining about hers. She asked me, “What do you do when your team gets into these kind of arguments?” I replied, “Oh, our team really doesn’t argue. We all get along.”
My statement was true, but my motive in saying it wasn’t really pure. It was a braggy and dismissive response. I could have told her, “We haven’t had that problem much this year, but I remember it happening in another school I taught at, and we used to work through it by ___” or “That hasn’t happened to us yet this year. I know it’s really frustrating. I wonder if it would help if you __ ?”
Try to be helpful and always humble when discussing your team–especially since you never know when the principal might split your team up to try to spread your positivity around the school. The people you’re bragging to now could end up being your teammates next year.
2. Show appreciation and respect to other grade level teams.
One of the things that successful teams do well is celebrate each other’s success and build one other up. So, do the same thing for teachers who aren’t on your team and who need that support even more.
If the 3rd grade team increases student benchmark scores significantly one quarter, congratulate them publicly in a staff meeting. If the 5th grade team pulled off their annual overnight field trip without a hitch, make a big deal out of it in the teacher’s lounge, and ask for their tips for managing large groups of students off-campus.
3. Celebrate other teachers and teams when they innovate or experience success.
The more that other teams are encouraged and praised, the more they bond together and feel like a cohesive, functional unit. Each person on your team can keep an informal lookout for opportunities to appreciate a specific grade level, and then your team can work together to show them some love to other grade levels from time to time.
Sometimes teachers resent colleagues who have a positive attitude because they feel like the positive colleague’s classroom is perfect, or the positive person views themselves as so perfect, and no one else can compare. Your colleagues might not always want to hear about how you’re doing so well and your class is so awesome, but it’s very rare to have colleagues complain when they’re complimented on the good things THEY’RE doing.
4. Put yourself in the position of a learner and ask other teams for advice.
Every teacher has something they do really well and something they can teach other people. Think about the expertise your colleagues have, and ask for their advice:
“I noticed your new bulletin board display in the hallway. Where did you find that activity you hung up? How did you get students to create such detailed responses?”
“My students are having a tough time understanding fractions. Since you’ll have this class next year, can you give me any tips for helping them understand? What’s the one fraction concept you wish every student came to your grade level already knowing?”
“I have a couple kids who are reading below grade level–since you teach a younger grade than me, can you give me some strategies for helping them decode? Are there any websites or books you really like for that topic?”
By asking these kinds of questions, you’ll not only learn ideas to improve your teaching practice, you’ll also develop a reputation for considering yourself an equal with your colleagues, and as someone who is willing to admit they don’t have all the answers.
5. Reach out primarily to colleagues who express the desire to innovate with you.
You’ve probably had some co-workers tell you they wish they were on your team, or wish they could pull off some of the cool activities you’ve done with you class. Do everything you can to support those teachers in bringing a collaborative, innovative spirit to their own teams.
For example, you might invite those teachers to plan with your team after school. Or, when you email links and resources to your team, cc other teachers who might be interested.
Don’t continually extend yourself to the entire staff, as some people might view that as pushy, arrogant, or brown nosing. Look for the positive, innovative teachers on other teams, and focus on them.
6. Be your full awesome, positive, innovative self when you share online.
You’re far from the only person who’s not appreciated in their school. A prophet is without honor in his own land, right? Many innovative teachers feel like their ideas are not valued where they work, and while it’s important to influence the school culture to change this, it can be a tough battle to fight.
Limit your time with the negative co-workers who bring you down, and instead, share your ideas on a blog or social media. Upload your beautiful classroom pictures and activities to Pinterest where other teachers will repin and replicate the ideas. Or head over to Twitter, which is overflowing with innovative educators who would love to see and hear more about the awesome things you’re doing (my suggested follow list is here.) Join Twitter chats so you can talk about topics that interest you, or find Facebook groups where teachers share practical classroom ideas.
Above all, keep doing what you do best, and do it with a humble attitude. As the saying goes, if you’re humble, nothing can touch you, neither praise nor discouragement, because you know who you are.
Every couple of episodes in my Truth for Teachers podcast, I like to answer a question that a listener has submitted. I call this the Ask Angela Anything segment. You can submit a question via this form, or even better, by leaving me a voice message that I can play on the show. It’s super easy–just press “Start Recording” below! You’ll be able to listen to your recording before deciding whether to send it.
Next week: Getting real about grit: 6 things every teacher needs to know
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