One of the most difficult aspects of teaching overseas is forming and maintaining collaborative and constructive relationships. This posting is a body of thought on the uniquely challenging tasks of forming and keeping professional partnerships that matter in the transitive environment that is the International School. Collaboration and relationships are a particular sticking point for many. I hope to offer practical tips for my fellow reader as well as, create meaning on an important, yet often overlooked aspect of expert teaching.
First off, I am a pretty big guy. I am a bald extrovert with a rather thick Boston accent. In trying to create a safe, mutually respectful dialogue with people. these facts alone are three strikes against me.
In my fourth grade classroom,appearances aside, I initially look to investigate student learning.I habitually interview each student’s reading and writing habits. I film each interview and share them with respective parents during the first Parent-Teacher conference. This allows me to gather insight and develop trust early during each school year. I take obsessive anecdotal notes during the first six weeks of the school year. I seek advice in designing the classroom library. I smile and greet each student by name, each morning. I have the students look me in the eye and shake my hand as we wish each other well. I intentionally compliment each student, each day.
My collaboration with my students’ parents is excellent. Each year, I try to phone home or SKYPE after Back to School Night and before Parent Teacher conferences. This is a public relations tool as well as an avenue to express gratitude for the positive start of the school year. During these phone calls, I look to detail a specific positive characteristic of each student. The parents love to hear about their kids and respect that I take time to call. During these phone calls, I ask if there is anything that I can do to make their child more comfortable in my classroom. I also ask if there is anything,in particular that they want me to know about their child that they haven’t previously been able to share. This helps me set the tone for a positive and cordial first Parent Teacher Meeting focusing exclusively on academic goal setting.
My relationships with colleagues is the most troublesome. The team dynamic is constantly shifting and the pressure cooker that is the International School forces me to tread lightly. My particular school’s salary scale is determined by performance. The stakes are high and one must work obsessively to create a safe communication pathway. The fact is, our jobs are intrinsically linked to each person that works in our school. Therefore, I make myself aware and appreciative of each person’s contribution to the school.
Currently, I am reading Crucial Conversations, Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. This book is helping me better articulate my thoughts in ways that are persuasive, safe, and of higher quality. I highly recommend it.
Reader, I sincerely welcome your comments and advice as I try to improve my collaboration and relationship practices. I am sure to revisit this area of concern as the year progresses.
Have a great school year.