I’m lucky enough to have significant portions of my day spent teaching students how to exercise. I won’t lie, helping teens to learn about the benefits of wellness and health isn’t something I take for granted. One of the highlights of many past years is offering students who have special needs the opportunity to have Adaptive Physical Education. Besides myself, we usually have 3-4 aides in the room who do a fabulous job of teaching. I’ve gotten to know many of the staff on a first name basis. It’s not uncommon for us to chat after class ,and reflect on those things that went well and improvements that may be necessary.
One day as a class was ending, I’d just finished chatting with one of our aides. She mentioned the difficulty a few of her colleagues were having adjusting to the new caseload, and how much stress they felt in their current jobs. Our class had a few severely impaired teens and the physicality of the job, along with a few other factors was taking a toll. We brainstormed some solutions that could easily be put in place. With the hope of integrating them for the next class.
As we were leaving the room, I noticed one of the male aides who’d recently finished the class. He was walking down the hall with his head down, and it was obvious from his body language that his mood wasn’t on the stellar list of best days ever! As he approached, I recalled how challenging a few of the previous classes had been for him. The conflict of deciding what to say at the moment he came close was a memory I’ll always have. Walking right past me and not noticing me, forced me to say, “Hello, is everything alright?” He continued to walk, without even a pause in his step. Again, I said, “are you okay? You seem really upset!”
Now, I don’t honestly know if me saying anything was the right thing or not. These are situations that have so many variables which shape our reactions. But because I knew him well and it was obvious he was under severe duress, the need to see if my assistance could help seemed important. After the second shout, he turned around! I could see the tears in his eyes and it was clear how upset he was. He came back towards me and started to cry slightly. I said, “I’m sorry for stopping you. It seemed like you were really sad.” He replied, “Craig, thank you so much for taking the time to say something. I apologize for walking right past you. I’m having such a horrible day that I got lost in my own little world. Just having a friend trying to help me is making a huge difference. Thank you again for raising my spirits.”
Even though the above situation only lasted about 2-3 minutes, it’s left an indelible footprint on the importance of helping and connecting with our colleagues. Now I realize this it seems like common sense to help our fellow staff who work with children. But it’s all too easy to wrap ourselves in our day and then leave; only taking the time to think about our daily lessons is commonplace in the hectic world of teaching. I know I’ve been guilty of this on more occasion. Unfortunately, there aren’t any magic bullets for getting out of our own “little world.” With that said, some daily reflection can make a huge difference. Along with taking time to think about our days, it’s refreshing to just unwind with our colleagues. I’d only suggest that spending time and helping others not turn into a constant place where negativity reigns. It’s perfectly okay to vent and discuss issues that we may be facing. We all do this! Keep in mind though, that whether you’re just chatting about the day or providing assistance, listening and positive talk really can change things for the better. Below are a few tips that may be helpful.
- Listen, without always giving advice. Learning to have an open ear isn’t just a skill demonstrated in the classroom. Even when advice seems useful, make sure it’s about helping with a purpose. Keep it simple and on point. If clarification is necessary, it should come from them, not just because we want to hear our own voices.
- Forget the four walls. We know it’s best practice to meet and greet students in the hall. But that’s not the only reason to leave your room. Whether it’s sharing lunch with colleagues, getting a quick chat at the copy machine (okay, maybe not that quick), or just simply saying “hi” to the teacher next to you, the benefits can be huge. Connections with our fellow educators can lay the groundwork for professional and personal growth that won’t occur if we just wrap ourselves solely into our classroom.
- Share a lesson that’s gone well for you, or something that will make the day of a colleague better. Even if you think another teacher has it all figured out, providing even the littlest help can do wonders. Also, you’ll open yourself up to getting great ideas from them as well.
- Give a positive note or “shout out!” We’ve done this at our school, and the benefits have been amazing. Just a simple, “thanks for all you do” can brighten another person’s day. The cost is a small, and everyone benefits.
While much of our day revolves around teaching, finding ways to connect and support another staff member is a win-win. Building a strong climate and culture is a team effort. If you start it, others will follow. I hope you’ll take the time to make the day just a little brighter.