Developing & Sustaining Professional Relationships for Teachers

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

It is important for teachers to not feel isolated and to see ourselves as members of an intellectual and professional community. This lesson will give you some ideas for how to develop and sustain professional relationships that benefit you, your colleagues, your students and your school or district.

Why Professional Relationships Matter

Ms. Foster is a high school teacher in a rural district. She has been teaching for seven years, and although she loves her job, she is starting to feel a sense of professional isolation, a feeling that she is alone in her classroom with no one to talk to or work on pedagogical issues with. After consulting with several supportive friends, she starts to understand that she is missing professional relationships. Professional relationships are connections to other people in the same field or a related field, in which participants feel free to discuss intellectual and emotional issues related to their lines of work. Professional relationships are sometimes also friendships, but as long as they are mutually respectful, they do not need to extend to the social or personal realm. Professional relationships can help enrich an individual's professional aptitude, morale, and sense of community.

Relationships Within Your School

Ms. Foster decides to begin her journey by building relationships within her school. She finds that she learns more about her fellow colleagues and everyone benefits from leaving the sometimes very isolated sphere of the classroom. Ms. Foster recommends the following strategies for building professional relationships within the school:

  • Attend staff meetings and smaller committee meetings

Teachers are busy, and it can be tempting to skip meetings. Yet, Ms. Foster finds that at staff meetings and smaller committee meetings, she gets to know more of her teaching colleagues and figures out who she has things in common with or things to learn from.

  • Organize social gatherings

Though professional relationships are not necessarily friendships, Ms. Foster enjoys and learns from conversations at social gatherings like parties or potluck dinners with her colleagues, where they often end up talking about professional themes.

  • Look beyond the teachers

Teachers also often have a lot to gain from strong professional relationships with guidance counselors, occupational therapists, and other staff at the school. Ms. Foster begins putting a bit of extra effort into getting to know the names, faces and ideas of all of the different people working in her building.

Relationships In Your Community

Ms. Foster begins to feel less isolated at her school, and she feels confident about reaching out and building professional relationships in the community, or neighborhood or town, where she works. Professional relationships with community members and leaders can be especially beneficial to students because they often lead to meaningful partnerships, internships, field trips and even work experiences. At first, Ms. Foster is slightly intimidated by the idea of going out into the community, but she soon finds that many individuals in her community are actually happy to have a good professional relationship with a teacher at their local high school. Ms. Foster recommends that any teacher interested in forming professional relationships within the community, begins by making a list of local services, businesses and organizations that might be interesting. Then, she suggests considering what you hope to gain from a relationship with someone at these places, and what you have to offer them in return. For instance, perhaps you are hoping for a guest speaker to visit your classes, and you envision that the organization will benefit from increased visibility among young people. These goals will look very different depending on the situation, but it is important for you to define them. Then, you can reach out to community members via e-mail, phone calls, or in person visits. Ms. Foster finds that her initial forays into the community are intimidating, but she soon grows used to it and everyone benefits from the relationships that ensue.

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