If you are a new teacher or maybe a teacher working in a new building, having a good rapport with your colleagues might be new waters to navigate. If you’re an introvert like me, this is one area that I have had to be intentional about. I can quickly find myself alone (which as an introvert isn’t always a bad thing). However, we can’t go through teaching alone. And at the same time, if you are a person that is energized by new relationships, boundaries are good to have too.
Why is Everyone Ignoring Me?
I’ve taught in a number of small schools and in a K-6 that had over 700 students. I’ve found that no matter the school size and number of educators in the building, it takes intentionality to build rapport with colleagues. If you simply wait for people to introduce themselves to you, there may only be a few teachers that reach out. The reality is that teachers are busy and making introductions to new teachers may not be a high priority on the list. So don’t take it personally.
Print off a list of the staff in your building. Make an effort to introduce yourself to at least one staff member each week. I suggest starting off with your office staff and your maintenance crew. They are always ones to keep close 😊
Your First Staff Meeting
If you are attending a school meeting for the first time, do some careful observation. If you are reading this blog post and school has been underway for a while, you can keep an eye out for these things as well. Here are a few things to look for in a staff meeting, IEP meeting, or conference.
Who does most of the talking?
Who seems to be the decision-maker at the table?
Are people respectful to one another?
Is this a safe space to ask questions?
Studies of business interactions have found that usually the person doing the most talking has the least amount of decision-making. Sometimes people will have ideas to share or input and it may seem like they speak with authority, but ultimately, they may not be the final decision-maker. Be on the lookout for who everyone turns to for final answers at the table. It’s probably not the person doing the most talking.
Meeting with Your Grade Level Team
You might find that you initially gravitate toward colleagues that are in your same grade level or subject area at first. It’s always great to build a positive rapport with your grade level or subject area team. Lean into areas that are new to you and share where you have expertise. If you are great with tech, be the go-to tech problem-solver. If you have strong artistic skills, lend your hand at bulletin boards. Everyone has strengths, so be willing to offer your unique skills to the group while being open to learn from others.
How Much Should I Share?
I’ve talked with several first-year teachers that worried they had overshared. I get it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with work and/or personal life it’s easy to end up venting to a colleague. Here’s what I would say about sharing: If you are sharing something personal to learn and move forward, or so that your colleagues can better support you during a difficult time, then sharing some of your personal struggles or personal life may be beneficial. But if you are using your colleagues as a sounding board, this can actually cause people to avoid conversations in the future.
Here's the thing, there needs to be some balance because becoming so closed off and never sharing makes it difficult for others to share or be open with you. Unintentionally, it might come across to others as being closed-off or not a safe person to interact with on a personal basis. This doesn’t mean that you need to share tons of things about your personal life, but be willing to be a little vulnerable.
For example, if you are going through a difficult season, you might simply share something like, “Hey, my mom is going through some health challenges right now. Time with family is my highest priority, so if I’m not getting back to you right away, that’s why. One of the ways that you can support me is by giving me some space. I’ll let you know if I need anything.”
Ultimately, when it comes to sharing, be willing to be vulnerable, but have boundaries.
Are you feeling alone?
You don’t have to go through teaching alone. There is strength in numbers. Sometimes new teachers have great questions, but are worried they might look ignorant, or that their colleagues won’t take them seriously. Find support in the First Year Teacher Facebook Group. This is a no-judgment group made up of first year teachers, newish teachers, as well as seasoned and veteran teachers. With Facebook’s new anonymous feature, group members can now ask questions within the group without sharing their identities. This is great if you are worried someone you know might see your post. Come join us here!
I hope these tips are helpful as you navigate your first year. You've got this.