Though it may not garner the recognition it deserves, teaching is, undoubtedly, one of the most rewarding and fulfilling careers. That you shape and nurture children, who, in turn, go on to leave their mark on the world, suggests that you “affect eternity,” as historian Henry Adams famously phrased it. While a teaching career is replete with gratifying moments, it can also be a very demanding, draining and demotivating job. Even as school managements continually invest in teacher training workshops and programs, what can teachers do to motivate themselves when the going gets tough? One source that is ubiquitous but untapped is the power of your colleagues to support and sustain you, both professionally and personally.
How well do you know your colleagues? And, more importantly, how well do they know you? Take Sumathi ma’am, for instance. She has been teaching geography to grades 8, 9 and 10 in the same CBSE school for over 12 years. While she has a cordial relationship with most colleagues, she still feels closer to her college buddies and a former neighbour. At school, Sumathi is fairly close to Nia, the economics teacher as they coordinated a project on sustainability for their students. Sumathi also shares her bird-watching photos with Rizwan sir, the chemistry buff, who is also a birder. Though Nia and Sumathi usually sit at the same table for lunch, they seldom meet or know much about each other’s lives outside school. Once in a while, Sumathi wishes she had deeper connections with her colleagues. But given how tight her timetable is, she rarely rues over this issue for long.
In their book, Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends & Colleagues, authors David Bradford and Carole Robin, urge people to forge more authentic friendships in their lives. In fact, they spur you to seek exceptional relationships, where you “feel seen, known, and appreciated for who you really are.” And, yes, it is possible to seek such rich and deep connections even at the workplace. In fact, if you manage to build even two exceptional relationships at work, you will feel more enthused and energized as you plod through the daily grind at school.
While many people tend to have more friends in their student years, as we enter the workspace and take on more adult responsibilities, we don’t necessarily invest as much time or effort in nurturing deep relationships. But the effort is well worth it because in an exceptional relationship you feel “known, supported, affirmed, and fully accepted.” Having one or two exceptional relationships can also bolster your sense of affiliation to your school, a key driver of intrinsic motivation.
According to Bradford and Robin, “six hallmarks” characterize exceptional connections. First, both you and the other person can be more or less yourselves in front of each other. Each of you is also willing to share your vulnerabilities with the other person. Further, you are reassured that your friend will not misuse the information you share during confidential exchanges. Both of you are able to speak freely with each other. If a conflict arises, you deal with it maturely by sharing your perspectives with one another. Finally, at a deep level, each of you is invested in the “growth and development” of the other person.
You may also be surprised to learn that we can form deep bonds with a fairly wide set of people. If you have barely exchanged more than cursory greetings with some colleagues, perhaps, it’s time to get to know them more substantively. When you get an opportunity to chat up a colleague you don’t know too well, try to move beyond superficial exchanges to establish a more meaningful connection with the person. Try to uncover a dimension of the person you weren’t aware of. Likewise, feel free to share an aspect of yourself that they are oblivious of. Of course, there is a fine line between curiosity and prying, and you should always be circumspect of crossing into territory that makes the other person uncomfortable.
Finally, sustaining exceptional relationships requires ongoing work and commitment. As life is defined by change, relationships also wax and wane, depending on how both people navigate life’s surprises, stresses and strains. But once you find a space with a colleague, where you can be your authentic self, without feeling diminished or judged, your workplace will be imbued with a new sense of meaning, coupled with a special concern and care that only trusted friends can know.
The writer is the author of Zero Limits: Things Every 20-Something Should Know. She blogs at www.arunasankaranarayanan.com.