Schools across the country are welcoming back students, faculty and staff. Due to pandemic-fueled turnover and an onslaught of retirements, hundreds of thousands of new teachers will begin their careers this fall. This means fresh opportunities for professional relationships.
While we often strategize how to cultivate positive relationships with students and families, we sometimes forget that our own workplace relationships matter, too. Just like students and families, educators need to feel a sense of belonging in schools. They need camaraderie to feel comfortable enough to take risks and try new approaches in the classroom. In fact, research shows that positive educator relationships are an essential feature of highly effective schools. As one teacher shared with Search Institute, "We're human beings. We're not robots.”
Similar to other workplaces, research shows that educators tend to spend the most time socializing and collaborating with colleagues who have similar interests, roles, and identities. These dynamics can lead to strong bonds that support teachers when challenges arise. However, they can also be damaging. For instance, veteran educators might unwittingly hoard knowledge and expertise while new teachers struggle to find their footing. Additionally, teachers from historically marginalized backgrounds may find themselves minorities amongst their colleagues and without a tight-knit social group. As you prepare to head back to the classroom, it is important to take stock of how to build collaborative relationships with all colleagues.
To learn how teachers cultivate meaningful relationships at work, as part of the Educator-to-Educator Relationships Framework Project, Search Institute facilitated nationwide focus groups and interviews with 72 educators from public, private, and charter schools in the spring of 2022. Based on these conversations, we compiled the “ABCs,” or foundational elements, of lasting, productive educator-to-educator relationships.
A is for ACTION. You create your community. Your actions send signals that you are a welcoming and supportive colleague.
B is for BELIEFS. Teaching is a distinct craft that merges the personal and professional. Whether we realize it or not, we bring our unique belief systems into the classroom and the ways in which we interact with other educators.
C is for CONNECTION. Ultimately, relationships are about connections.
We recognize that none of this is done in isolation. Some schools have supportive structures that enable relationship-building to happen more seamlessly while other schools leave little time for their teachers to socialize or collaborate. Search Institute is invested in supporting teachers as well as school leaders. We believe in the power of relationally-rich environments. One way to better understand the relational culture at your school or organization is to take Search Institute’s Relational Culture Checkup – a tool for self-reflection and conversation, designed for leaders and staff to learn about the relational culture of their organization.
Melanie Muskin is a PhD student in Human Development and Social Policy in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Melanie’s academic research is informed by a prior career in New York City schools where she served as a teacher, elementary school assistant principal, director of a citywide professional development initiative, and head of a center-based preschool. Melanie is working on the Educator-to-Educator Relationships Framework Project as one of Search Institute’s 2023 Summer Scholars.