According to a recent study by the Conference Board, less than half of American workers are happy in their jobs. Of the satisfied minority, an overwhelming 67 percent cite office friendships as a major factor of job contentment, explains Eileen Habelow in her 2010 Forbes article analyzing workplace happiness. From boosting camaraderie to spurring creativity, work friendships forge the foundation to a satisfied career.
How can we as teachers better our co-worker friendships? Like the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge, can’t each of us claim that “mankind is our business”? In a field where we are the cheerleaders for the mundane and the confidence builders to the timid, we already possess the tools to understand and empathize with our fellow teacher or co-worker. Here are a few tips to help you realize those tools and put them to good use in the workplace.
The moment we step through those double doors, a series of bells and class schedules regulate our lives. Like superheroes, we perform miracles out of minutes — squeezing life lessons and advanced algorithms into every 40 minutes. Sometimes it comes down to a choice between finishing up a stack of papers or chatting with a fellow teacher.
But guess what? Even science backs up the need to provide our frantic brains with a break, as Scientific American reveals. So schedule that lunch date with the teacher down the hall. Your brain will thank you. Even better: That connection will build a stronger rapport with your lunch buddy.
Chatting with other teachers within an educator online social group may provide the chance to form friendships with people you’d never meet otherwise. From random anecdotes to meaningful dialogue, online networking opens a door to fluid discussion and creative collaboration.
In his Edudemic article, Jeff Dunn explores 50 Google+ circles geared toward teachers. Dunn details the best circles to join within each subject area and region. More recently, our writer Amanda Ronan listed numerous other online platforms for connecting in her article, How to Connect With Other Teachers in the Social Age. Whether you’re looking for a neighborly chat with someone in your state or a brainstorming session with another special ed teacher, you are just a few clicks away from dozens of networking sites. Pick one or three, and hop on the hobnobbing bandwagon to meet fellow educators you can connect with right away.
Edmodo, a 46-million-strong education networking site, grants similar access to teachers across the globe. Join a community within your subject area to consult with a new friend on another continent. Cultures and teaching traditions may vary, but Edmodo provides the platform for sharing strategies and building relationships, whether that educator is across town or 10,000 miles away. Find easy instructions for getting started with our Edmodo cheat sheet for teachers, which provides print-screen pictures that walk you through setting up an account and joining a group.
We all know that shared experiences create shared bonds, so team up with a fellow teacher to plan a field trip to the local museum or science center. Whether you look at a field trip as a fun day or a stressed-out-about-what-my-students-are-doing day, it’s always more enjoyable to share that with another professional. During summer break, carry your relationship outside of the boundaries of school by attending a local conference or a continuing education course together. Time spent together beyond the school walls generates opportunities to share on a more personal level. Visit the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards website to find out about annual conferences.
Don’t be afraid to explore friendships outside of your discipline. Especially if a teacher in another field shares a special-needs student, venture out of your comfort zone. Communicating with all teachers involved can only benefit the student while creating a unified approach among professionals.
On a more personal level, I always look forward to my chats with the Algebra teacher across the hall. Although her passion for polynomials rivals my love affair with British poetry, we frequently share new teaching strategies with each other. Our subject areas may be worlds apart, but through daily conversations, we keep a fresh perspective on adjusting teaching methods to match varying personalities and skill sets.
We teachers walk a tightrope of trust. Not only can gossip between teachers sabotage friendships, it can also affect the learning environment and venture into legal territory. Students trust us to be their advocates; fellow teachers trust us to be a dependable comrade in the daily adventures of Kid-dom. Strengthen lifelong friendships by honoring confidentiality and avoiding the gossip mill. Protect someone’s privacy, and you gain her respect.
Aren’t we all guilty of the rampant email-itis? Let’s face it: Quick responses have their place. It’s much faster to shoot off a reply through the impersonal cyberspace, but that is not the way to forge lasting friendships. As the “New York Daily News” reports, we create our own “communication divide” when we resort to pressing “send” as our sole method of connecting or communicating. Paul Barnwell of Education Week suggests at least establishing a personal connection before resorting to email.
In a similar plea for traditional talking, Forbes writer Shayne Hughes details a weeklong email-free adventure within his company, which led to renewed productivity and communication. Whether or not you choose to boycott emailing altogether for a time, as Hughes describes, gain a fresh respect for the power of live interaction.
As teachers, we aim to instill a love of lifelong learning in our students —curiosity about life’s puzzles and sensitivity to those around us. What better way to impart that than by example? By taking a chance and extending ourselves beyond our comfort zones, we gain an investment in our workplace happiness and overall life outlook. So be a friend. Reach out. Be a proud 67-percent-er: happy with your job because of the coworker relationships you’ve created.