Being a Good Colleague Will Do the Most Good for Your Teaching Career

Teaching is about relationships. While students, parents and administrators all expect you to partner with them, your connections with colleagues will play the largest role in your ability to enjoy your work and grow as a professional.

Teachers who work together have a better chance of enjoying their work and advancing in the profession.That’s why it’s so essential to be a good colleague. Not only will it benefit your work, but it also will set a strong example to your students. In today’s confrontational TV and Internet culture, children need to see the adults in their world expressing collegiality, caring and concern. To be a good colleague, you have to:

Care so you can be cared for

Start by looking for the best colleagues to work with — they’re the ones who treat the children well. If someone is habitually kind and compassionate toward the students, they will treat you that way, and you, in turn, will do the same.

It’s easy to develop a good relationship with someone whose personality and work ethic you respect. The reverse also applies here. Treat children poorly, and your colleagues will freeze you out. There is no room in our schools for adults who don’t place children first.

Give and take

Offer to help your colleagues. It can be as simple as holding the paper as they staple a bulletin board or proofreading a letter to be sent to parents, or as complex as helping out with the design of lesson plans and curriculum.

All relationships are based on a mutual give-and-take where people selflessly work together. If all you do is take, your colleagues will stop giving. Another positive twist on this is to let your students see you help your colleagues. Children don’t always do what we say, but they always watch what we do.

Learn from others’ experience

New teachers come into our schools filled with a lot of knowledge, but without much practice putting that knowledge to work. To be a good colleague, especially when you’re new in a school, it’s best to follow the example of your more experienced colleagues.

I have seen teachers quickly alienate colleagues by lecturing others, assuming that they know more, and going so far as to criticize. A positive colleague relationship is based on mutual respect for each other’s work and a willingness to take advice when necessary.

Be a great listener

Teachers are solution-oriented people who quickly jump into action when a problem arises. What does listening have to do with problem solving? Well, good colleagues are willing to hear people out when they unload their frustrations and concerns.

People often find an answer to their own questions if they talk long enough about them. You simply need to nod your head and affirm what the other person is saying — without attempting to solve their problem. If they are truly stumped, you can begin to offer direct advice, but it’s far better to let them get there on their own.

Make good choices

You can’t choose your colleagues, but you can choose the ones you spend time with. As I’ve said many times, over time you’ll become the average of your five closest fellow teachers. Keep that in mind when they show you their attitude toward students, parents and your school. Whether you like it or not, eventually you’ll be more like them than you realize. Choose wisely.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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