The importance of relationships

September 10th 2016

Reflection

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I have had a difficult 2 years being a teacher. I know this is not unique in itself, many, many teachers struggle on from year to year, but this was a big turn around from the former years where I had previously felt so full of excitement, enthusiasm and an unquestionable love of my job.

Why the change? I don’t think there was any one thing.

There are some that will point to the changes in curriculum and assessment during these years and the added pressure that this put on classroom practitioners and the focus it took away from the work they enjoyed doing – educating children. However, when you think about my love of ICT and Computing – for me at least, a *change* to the old and outdated ICT curriculum was always welcome…in whatever form.

There are others that will point to it being ‘that point’ in my career. With the enthusiasm of the NQT year long gone and the increasing responsibilities each year, that perhaps teaching lost its rose-tinted appearance? But again, if a couple of years out of NQT that’s that, there’s not much hope for the rest of a career!

What I do know is that many of my best teaching practices were momentarily left to one side as I floundered and tried to keep everything as I thought was expected. I still worked with some brilliant children, learned some fantastic things and kept building on what I was doing – but I was never quite myself.

Relationships

Coming through this period in my career (at least I hope that’s the point I am now at!), I have realised that one thing that is so crucial in teaching are relationships. The importance of relationships if often overlooked. Particularly in education. We want to get things done, be efficient and not spend even more hours working than we have to – who wouldn’t? But in the long run, these relationships are what we rely on and what can get us through.

When I talk about relationships, I am talking about all; a teacher’s relationship with the pupils in their class – what do they do at the weekends? Who loves computer games? Or playing football? Who just got a new baby sister? As well as relationships with colleagues – who has kids? Who loves travelling? Who just got married? And also those with particular members of SLT as they are people too! What does your year manager or department head enjoy doing? What’s their favourite biscuit/chocolate? (actually one of the most crucial things to discover 😉 ) What about your headteacher? Sure, they’re busy, but how long does it take to ask them if that film they were going to see was any good? Then it begs the question: is there any point? What are you gaining from spending those valuable minutes chatting when you could be getting something done that means you can have a 5 minute lunch break?

Relationships with Colleagues

I have been fortunate enough to have some amazing colleagues over the years and each of these helped shape me into the teacher I wanted to become – someone who has time to chat in the photocopying room about the weekend! Someone who wants to tell everyone in sight that little Bobbie managed to work independently for a whole lesson (even if the other teacher doesn’t even know the child in question). Someone who will listen when you’re having a bad day – even if they don’t know the bigger picture and can’t really do anything about it anyway. These relationships prove vital on good days and bad ones, and without them teaching can be an incredibly lonely profession.

I remember I started a new school the Summer after I had gotten married. On one of my first days there I walked past a TA who was putting up a display in the hall and casually said ‘Hi’. She remembered that I had been getting married and seemed genuinely excited to hear all about it and see the photos etc. and it was so nice because I probably would never see her to talk about ‘professional’ things. She worked at the exact opposite of the school in terms of years and actually in an entirely different building! Yet, with one short conversation I felt much more settled and straight away had someone else to chat to in the staff room!

Relationships with Pupils

When we talk about relationships with pupils, it can seem a bit of a minefield. You’ve got to get to know them (we all know that’s important), but equally show them that we’re ‘in charge’ and set clear expectations…This can often seem cross-purposes. The thing to remember is that the relationship you are trying to develop is that of pupil and teacher and therefore, you’re not trying to do different roles, just the one. The tricky part comes from – what does that pupil/teacher relationship look like? To me, it’s about sharing a bit of myself with the children and finding out bits of information about them. I don’t want this to be in a formal way – “Everyone sit down and tell me 3 important things about you.” Because even if I collect in and ‘mark’ all of these, I am not going to retain those things and really it isn’t building a relationship, it’s a generic exercise.

I also find that when teachers do talk about relationships with children, even the ones that seem developed are often superficial. For example, chatting to little Mary about what she did at the weekend ‘because she’s not very happy and I wanted to check everything was ok’. Whilst the teacher’s heart is in the right place, would you expect a recent friend or colleague to build a relationship with you, just when things weren’t going great? In fact, during those times are you more likely to push said new acquaintance away because you haven’t yet sussed them out and don’t know how they will take your bad mood or terrible day? Also, what about those children who are having a terrible day, or weekend, and don’t show it outwardly? This approach would mean a teacher would have no chance of knowing which relationships to pursue.

Relationships with SLT

Finally, the relationship with SLT is an interesting one. Again, I have had some amazing year managers and headteachers over the years who have supported me and helped me to hone my teaching skills or look at things differently. However, equally I have felt restrained or frustrated at other individuals who don’t share my vision or aren’t willing to take a risk. Asking permission from senior management for something new relies heavily on relationships. A trust that you will handle things carefully, and that the risks you are taking (as all new ideas come with risks) have been considered and measured against the potential gains they offer. A relationship where you can suggest your idea openly and be confident that it will be heard and considered – even if the end result is a compromise.

Communication

I have worked in many schools throughout my career and the biggest ‘improvement’ that I find suggested is to communication. Some staff know things before others, some staff get accidentally forgotten and don’t hear about it at all. Some don’t know what’s going on, others choose not to know what’s going on so they can continue as they were. Yet I wonder if largely what we mistake here for communication issues is largely a lack of true relationships.

Those that feel they are missing out on communications – how do they feel about their relationship with their colleagues or SLT? Do they feel they’re strong with both parties having an interest in the other? Probably not.

Now I don’t want to stray here into an in-depth consideration of how schools could develop their relationships to improve communication, but after some tricky years I wonder how much of a difference could have been made. Relationships are a two-way process and both have to put the effort in, you cannot develop a relationship with a colleague who doesn’t want to converse with you. And they cannot develop a relationship with you if you’re always hiding away somewhere. But it is something worth thinking about.

Going Forward

I do admit that I am writing this blogpost partly as a way of cathartic release; a way to organise my thoughts and feelings over the last couple of years and start to look forward to the new school year and the excitement that awaits. Don’t get me wrong, these years haven’t been terrible – if they’d have got that bad, I’d have changed direction and done something else…I strongly believe that there’s no point in making yourself completely miserable for any job. Yet, I have felt the strain over the last 2 years and I felt like I was forced to become a teacher that I was not.

Many of the fantastic Twitterati relationships I had developed have slowly faded as I withdrew and tried to get through each day and equally things like this wonderful blog which is full of ideas was left by the wayside. But now, I hope to return to building those relationships, to looking a head and to returning to school ready for another year of awe and wonder.

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© Sway Grantham 2013 - Version: 1.13