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Making a connection: how to form good working relationships in your new school

Making-Friends Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash

If there's one thing that schools have plenty of, it's people. There aren't many jobs that require you to interact with so many people every day; in addition your pupils, there are parents, members of staff in your department, those in other subject areas and the wider school community.

It can be tempting to stay in your classroom and soldier on when you're new, busy and unsure, and some student and new teachers (understandably) find it difficult to approach experienced staff who already have a lot to deal with. But forming links and relationships with other people is crucial to making the most of your training, and will give you a place to turn when things get difficult.

We spoke to two school leaders – Emma McLaughlin, headteacher at Powell Corderoy School in Surrey, and Benjamin Ward, assistant vice principal for teaching and learning at Manchester Enterprise Academy – for their top tips on handling the interpersonal demands of the role.

Be polite and positive when dealing with parents 

Ben: Phone calls home, both positive and negative, are vital in the early weeks. There will be some parents you'll call more frequently over the year; you probably won't know who they are at the start, but it's worth investing in building good relationships with them all from the outset.

Be polite, supportive and encouraging, even when the phone call is about something negative. Find positives to praise and keep it factual – stick to what happened and what the result was. Stay away from generalisations or any statements you can't back up. If a parent's response is inappropriate, politely and professionally challenge it, and if it continues, explain you are ending the call and pass it to your head of department (these situations are rare, but they do happen).

Invest time in forming relationships with colleagues early

Ben: It's all about building relationships with everyone – there's the old cliché about the importance of getting along with the cleaners, site team, dinner ladies and so on. You should get to know the staff in your department and those elsewhere – they may be based in other workrooms so there won't always be naturally occurring interactions. It's always helpful to know senior leaders with offices near your teaching space, as well as the other NQTs and developing teachers.

All of these should be conscious decisions – seek out opportunities to invest time in these relationships. Be available, friendly, helpful and positive; the more you invest in these relationships the more you have "in the bank" when you need advice, support, time or help.

Emma: Be open and personable, and ask questions. People will want to get to know you and feel that you are interested in the school. Talk to people at break, lunchtimes and after school. Find out about your colleagues and the families you work with. Remain professional in your own conduct of course, but don't be afraid to work on becoming part of the school community – as a person as well as an employee.

Don't be arrogant

Emma: As you get to know the school, respect the experience others have. New ideas and enthusiasm are great, but try not to be so keen to make your mark that you overlook the marks made by others: you may be able to learn from them.

Ben: Make sure you're humble and teachable – ask questions and listen to the answers. If you're given advice that you're not sure you agree with, accept it with professionalism and good grace, and go away and think about it.

There's nothing wrong with asking questions to better understand the perspective of someone whose views you value, but there's nothing to be gained by shunning their advice – they probably won't offer it again if it's not valued.

Find out who does what

Emma: Take the time to find out who to go to for what advice, and be mindful that mentoring is an added job to someone's (busy) workload. One person doesn't need to field all of your questions – you can be more efficient in this regard by understanding the different roles and responsibilities people have, whether it's admin, being a subject leader, a team leader, or a business manager. Go to the right people for the right information and be considerate of their workload by arranging a time to speak if it's more than a quick question.

Steer clear of gossip and negativity

Ben: Be professional and avoid talking about people behind their backs – you wouldn't want people to do it to you, and when you engage in such behaviour, or even just listen to it, you're condoning it. In fact, try to avoid being sucked into complaining and negativity in general.

Remember that you won't get on with everyone; you'll have people who become good friends, people who become trusted advisors and mentors (official or unofficial), and people who are just colleagues, with whom your relationship is just professional. Be polite, helpful and professional, and don't feel the need to force anything more – ultimately, just be yourself. 

This article is taken from the EdCentral Alternative Student Teacher Manual, which is available to download now for free.

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