There’s a Ship in the Faculty Room, and it’s a Relationship
By Lil Hosman
In almost any organization today, there is someone, a boss, leader, teacher, learner, customer, salesperson, who is trying to get someone else to change. They may be trying to get them to change behavior, as is often the case with teachers or students. They may be trying to get them to change a point of view or to value something differently. They may be trying to increase productivity. Whatever the change we’d like to see, we often see it as needing to be done by someone other than ourselves. If we are in the business of asking for change, as most teachers, administrators, and school personnel are, we know that ‘wanting the best for students’ doesn’t necessarily translate into students doing their best work, or demonstrating the most acceptable behavior. It doesn’t even mean that students will take the most effective way to get their needs met. They may in fact confound us with their approach to school, homework, personal health, and socialization. Most of us, as educators, have found that we cannot demand that students do things our way. It just doesn’t work.
At another level, many of us have worked on staffs where we are less than satisfied with the way the building operates. It may feel like there is no vision, like we just run in circles. Our staff meetings are boring, and the state standards seem more important than the kids. There is so much to do we barely get it done, much less have time to eat lunch with our colleagues. We go to work each day but often we find the solution for our dissatisfaction with the process around us is to hunker down in our own little world-our room or our department, and try to make believe the rest of ‘them’ don’t exist. We find our colleagues sometime combative, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes lazy, sometime ineffectual or inefficient. We find a small niche of people we like, admire, or have history a with and there we stay. We seldom venture out because the venture is often met with “nothing has changed”-and we retreat.
The dilemma is clear, but what is the answer, or is there one? Have you ever worked on a staff where you loved going to work and it was a fun place to be? If it was a school, it is a given that you were working hard, but even with that, you enjoyed it.
Here’s a little test for you to take.
1. What are the continents of the world?
2. What are the provinces of Canada?
3. What is included in the US Bill of Rights?
4. Name the president of the United States?
5. Name the president of the United States, Mexico and the Premier of Canada?
1. Name your favorite teacher and tell why?
2. Tell me about someone who has influenced your life.
3. Tell me about the first car you owned.
4. Share with me the strengths of your parents.
5. Tell me about the class in which you learned the most.
Which answers were easier for you to remember? I’d venture the second.Why is that? The reason is probably because the second answers have value for you in some way. If content or experiences have value for us as human beings we find it much easier to retain the connected information. The operative word here is connected.
How does ‘community’ fit into the idea of connectedness? What is the value of focusing on relationships? Relationships allow us the gift of influence. If you have ever tried for very long to coerce, cajole, bribe, threaten or punish others into doing or being the way you want them to, you probably realize that doesn’t work very well in the long term. Generally we don’t change our behavior for someone who coerces, punishes, shames, complains, nags, whines or blames us.
If our goal is a school where we feel professionally
fulfilled, where people treat each other with respect and positive regard,
one avenue toward achieving that goal is to work with intentionality on
staff relationships. We wouldn’t dream of expecting students to pass tests
without having taught them the basic information being tested. We teach
with intention and with the goal that our students will acquire knowledge,
gain skill, learn concepts and ideas and demonstrate that array in a summative
evaluation. Often as educators, we use the cooperative learning model with
our students. The first thing we teach them is the ‘process’ of working
together, then we teach them the content. In the same way, if we want school
staffs to work well together, we must intentionally focus on the process.
A truly collegial staff is willing to spend the time to increase relationships,
not so that everyone is lovey dovey but so that people have an opportunity
to respect others, to interact, to focus on how they are alike, as opposed
to how they are different. Being a congenial staff precedes being a collegial
staff. We must get to know one another before we can begin to have lively
discussions where it is perfectly reasonable to disagree and share points
of view. If people are going to work in a group they will interact but
they will not always agree; they will put out energy to function in the
group. How much easier it is to put out positive energy than negative?
Today, public schools offer us much opportunity to choose either negative
or positive. Building staff relationships is both a way to relieve the
stress that is so apparent in schools today and a way to change negative
energy to positive. If we must dig a hole it is easier done with a shovel
than a teaspoon. If we must work together it is easier to do it with intention
and positive energy than haphazardly and with negativity. If I’m aware
of a problem, I get to choose whether to be part of the problem or part
of the solution.
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