The latest blog post from Legacy’s education consultant and Advisory Board member on her blog: Education, From Inside and Outside

Education from Inside and Outside: Teacher to Teacher Communication

May can be a whirlwind in a school. The weather reminds teachers and students alike that summer break is coming. Culminating events are crowded into the calendar, all of which require public performance, heightening competition and stress. Teachers have reached the saturation point with that particular student in third period who constantly interrupts, the teacher down the hall whose students seem to be hanging from the chandelier, and the parent who complains no matter how hard the teacher tries to meet the parent’s demands. Final tests loom ominously, as teachers take their students’ progress seriously and know that student performance reflects on their own performance. Often teachers find themselves in conflict with other teachers especially in May, which can derail a school community, specifically student culture, as students pick up on teacher-to-teacher conflict and feed it for entertainment. Exhausted teachers have trouble following the first rule of school: Don’t take it personally!

What usually happens when a teacher is annoyed or concerned about a colleague’s behavior is gossip. Most teachers are conflict averse, and so if they’re angry, they often share their anger with someone other than the one to whom it should be directed. They find a sympathetic colleague, or worse, a sympathetic parent or student, and vent. They lose their temper with a class that is particularly silly or seemingly unconcerned about the academic business of school. They get depressed and mope about, feeling like failures. None of these are particularly effective responses, although they are quite frequent, especially in May.

An alternative, which requires courage and self-awareness, is for the angry teacher to calm down, and then go to the teacher whose behavior upsets them and ask for a private conversation. Schedule a meeting – a cup of coffee, a lunch, a conference after school – don’t do it on the fly. Tell the colleague that you want their perspective on something. At the meeting, the teacher who is upset should first thank the colleague for meeting, then state the common goal that they share – working for the good of the children. The teacher then calmly states the behavior that is upsetting him or her, and how that behavior makes him or her feel. For example: I know that you and I are both dedicated to doing what’s best for children, and I want us to work together to accomplish that. It seems like our parameters for classroom behavior are different, and sometimes that makes me angry. I feel like my efforts to keep my students on track are wasted if my students can interrupt or socialize in your class, but not in mine. How can we collaborate to make sure that our classroom expectations are in sync? Then listen. Really listen. You may find that your colleague is struggling and needs your help. Or you may find that your colleague doesn’t want to work with you, in which case you should go to your supervisor.

Legacy International’s program LivingSideBySide® offers teacher professional development that will develop the skills necessary to improve teacher to teacher communication, as well as the skills teachers need to manage a classroom effectively and to develop appropriate, respectful relationships with students. Check their website for additional information: http://www.legacyintl.org/livingsidebyside/

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Mary Riser has worked in Virginia independent schools for 30 years, most recently as Head of School at James River Day School, a K-8 day co-ed day school in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she served as Head for ten years. Mary received her B.A. in English and Philosophy from Georgetown University and her M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Oregon. Prior to working at James River, Mary was the Middle School Director and an English teacher at St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville for fifteen years, and an English teacher and English Department Chair at the Blue Ridge School for Boys for five years. Between undergraduate school and graduate school, she worked as a legislative aide for the Honorable Pat Williams, the Congressman from Western Montana.

When asked what motivates her, Mary said, “I am passionate about learning. I believe that education should be designed to keep the learner at the center, and that the purpose of education is to cherish and challenge all learners to find their purpose and to thrive.”

Mary and her husband, George, live in Covesville, Virginia and have two adult children.