As a teaching mentor, I'm constantly asked how new teachers can be good colleagues to their fellow teachers. As new teachers try to earn their colleagues' respect, they worry about stepping on the toes of veteran teachers. They need guidance on how to build strong, lasting relationships.
Further Reading: The 6 Secrets to Building a Relationship with Your Principal
I tell all of my mentees that teacher relationships with colleagues are incredibly important because they contribute to a more positive school climate. Here are some tips I give to my mentees to help them develop meaningful, respectful, and helpful relationships.
1. Be Trustworthy
Few things damage a teacher's relationship with their colleagues more than spilling secrets, gossiping, or talking smack about administrators. So don't. When—not if, but when—someone tells you something in confidence, keep it to yourself. When you hear gossip, don't participate. And never talk trash. It will always come back to bite you. Showing your colleagues that they can trust you is a fundamental step in building strong relationships with them.
If you're a new teacher, it's absolutely imperative to listen to the vets around you. We get it: You're full of enthusiasm, and you're eager to contribute to meetings. But be careful—you don't want to come across as a know-it-all when you're a novice.
Of course veteran teachers want to hear new teachers' voices. But presentation is critical. Veteran teachers and staff will help you acclimate to the culture of your building. They'll help you navigate the ups and downs of teaching. Observe how veterans speak in meetings, during professional learning group time, and with other colleagues. You'll learn valuable information.
3. Ask Questions
Asking questions is an easy and effective way to build relationships with your colleagues. If you don't understand something or you need help, don't be afraid to ask questions. Your administrators, your teachers, and especially your mentors—they want to help you. They'd much rather you ask a question than watch you flounder.
Ask your colleagues questions about their interests and hobbies outside of work, too. Get to know them better. Maybe you both love Pearl Jam—that could help build your bond. I love listening to my colleagues share their child-rearing tips and cooking ideas and talk about their travel adventures.
4. Support Your Colleagues
Almost every teacher I know is working on an initiative, engaged in committee work, or piloting new lessons or assessments. Supporting your colleagues' work shows them that you care about their interests and are willing to show up when they need you. Participate in their committees. Test-drive their new lesson plans. Take their surveys. And if you see something that resonates with you, talk to the teacher handling that work. They'll appreciate the support and interest.
5. Offer Your Help
My mentee this year, Patric, was very technologically savvy. He helped me and several other teachers navigate our new online testing system, and we were eternally grateful.
If you have a special skill, let your colleagues know and offer your help. Reverse mentoring is powerful.
6. Respect Boundaries
Look, we don't need to tell you that teaching is a stressful gig. If you see a teacher on the phone, in a conversation with another colleague, or enjoying a solo lunch, just keep moving. Don't bother them. If you borrow something, return it in a timely manner. Respecting your fellow teachers' boundaries is critical to building bridges—and keeping the workplace civil.
Modeling this respect can also help your students learn how to identify and respect others' boundaries, something kids learn through practice, the Child Mind Institute says. Developing your emotional intelligence will help you empathize with your colleagues and know when to engage—and when not to.
7. Be Real
No one likes a phony. When you interact with a colleague, be yourself, and be honest. Look to create genuine relationships with your fellow teachers, not transactional ones. This will show your colleagues that you're invested in the relationship.
Get to know your colleagues better by creating memories with them.
Teachers frequently go out for dinner or drinks, and sometimes they attend cultural events together. Schools throw holiday parties. Teachers unions hold soirees. At my school, most of the teachers go to prom every year. Many teachers attend student sporting events, musical performances, and school plays. Take part in these outings when you can.
You don't need to attend every school-related event, but showing up at least once in a while shows that you're a team player.
9. Branch Out
Forming relationships with teacher colleagues can help you feel more fulfilled in your career, but it's also perfectly acceptable to develop relationships with your principal or other administrator, too. Over the years, I've counted many of my bosses as dear friends.
Friendships with administrators can lead to complications, however, so keeping the relationship healthy is key. To avoid blurring lines, make your intentions clear when speaking to an administrator by saying things like, "I'm speaking to you as a friend now," or "As an employee, I think..." Entrepreneur suggests remembering that the purpose of your relationship with your principal isn't to win favor; it's to build a connection based on "mutual respect, which will lead to better communication, the ability to work through disagreements and ... a partnership where you can support one another through difficult times."
Further Reading: Survive the Gossip Target on Your Back
As you build teacher relationships with colleagues, you'll find that your job becomes more enjoyable. It's easy territory to navigate if you follow these simple guidelines.