When conversations can bridge the gap

N. S. Lakshmi Sengupta

Relationships in a teaching-learning environment fall into two categories namely Collegial and Congenial. A collegial relationship describes your working relationship with your colleagues and how well you interact as part of an education team while congenial relationships are pleasant and friendly and help you feel as though you are part of the team (Barth, 2006). Both of these are equally important to have a positive school climate. Let me give you examples from my teaching experience that highlight the existence of both in my professional life.

Attending a workshop by the author Lalitha Eapen (Aster – Coursebook by Pearson)

June 10, 2013, my first day at school, my first ever teaching experience was about to begin. Prior to this I was in the corporate sector, thus it was natural for me to be apprehensive about this new chapter that was to unravel and change it for the better.

It was nice to be greeted with warm smiles but the thought lingered…. One cannot be friends at a workplace! The very first year was challenging as a teacher is expected to do more than just teach. I used to observe other teachers and follow suit, seek help when required and they would always be happy to help me with strategies that would ensure student engagement in the class. The difficulty level increased when I was given the responsibility of training students for an inter-house choral recitation competition, something I had never done before. I was weighed down by the very thought of teaching students something that I wasn’t aware of. I did confide my struggle to a teacher who seemed to be approachable and who had coached many students for such events before. She happily taught me the nuances of choral recitation and tips to enhance the performance of my ‘house’.

That year, my house won the competition. I went and thanked her profusely and felt indebted too but she lauded my efforts instead. I learnt my first lesson, help and appreciate others and you will be able to forge healthy relationships for life. Not that we spoke for long hours or spent time, but there was some magic in that relationship. With the passage of time, I was given more responsibilities, dramatics, compering sports day, prize day and this teacher would always be by my side instilling confidence in me and reassuring me that I could easily pull through it. Her quality stayed with me and that made me a better person and I too empathize with new teachers and till date love to play a similar role that this teacher played and when they succeed, I feel content.

I remember a new teacher who was proficient in history, but was given English language as a subject to teach. She approached me as I was her co-teacher. I remember sitting with her and giving her a demonstration of how I would have executed the lesson in my class. I will never forget the spark in her eyes when she entered the staffroom after her class was over to share that she managed to execute it the way I demonstrated and the students thoroughly enjoyed her class. She couldn’t stop thanking me for it, the bond thus created still lasts, currently she is in another state but we still discuss how to go about certain concepts in class.

Drama integrated teaching

I do have friends who have helped me identify my blind spot. By blind spot, I mean the third quadrant of the Johari window (a technique designed to help people understand their relationship with themselves and others) where one is unaware about the traits one possesses and others can clearly see them. It requires a magnanimous heart for a person to come forward and make you aware of it. Only a selfless person who would want you to succeed in life would do so. This co-teacher always felt that I was multifaceted and did not value my own worth. She believed that the teaching community must know of the different things I was doing in class and also that I should be recognized for the same.

On the contrary, I never believed in myself nor my lessons and felt I was doing what any other teacher was doing. Her coaxing led me to apply for one such prestigious award and two more later and guess what… I bagged them all! On her insistence, I joined various teaching groups and both the teaching community and I have benefited out of this partnership. She keeps encouraging me till date and tells me that I am meant for more and I attribute my achievements to her. We bond well and are just a call away, we share similar interests and motivate each other to attend workshops and webinars that would equip us with skills that can benefit our students. This has led to both professional and personal growth. We have also conducted workshops for other teachers where we share our best practices and I believe that has benefited the school as a whole. Such workshops have helped other teachers come out of their shell and share their ideas. The quality of our lesson plans has gone up and student agency increased.

While some help you grow professionally, there are some who help you grow as a person. They support you emotionally and give you the mental strength to face any challenge. I have one such friend in school. We belong to different departments but have a soul connect. Being in the same school, we have each other to discuss issues that are not subject specific. She has been by my side through thick and thin and this is what I call a transformational relationship where we don’t judge each other. We understand each other’s vulnerabilities There are moments when we agree to disagree but always have each other’s back. I look forward to meeting her each day and the very feeling that you have someone like this keeps you going. There are times when we are at loggerheads but for us the relationship is above all disagreements and no issue can break it.

At times, school interactions evolve into great friendships that stand in good stead when one is teamed with teachers having varied skill sets to achieve a purpose. I have one such friend who again is highly skilled, is always available to help everyone while taking no credit for the same. I have immense respect for her and I would go the extra mile for her whenever the need arises.

Sharing best practices

I have been blessed with lovely staffroom partners, who ensure that we take our timely breaks and meet our deadlines as well by reminding each other of it. Friends who understand when you are feeling low and are ready to do your substitution duty, who complete your work in your absence and uplift your morale when down by cracking jokes. We stand as a team and add to the positive school climate, which is contagious!

Our school events are a hit because we collaborate, laud each other’s efforts and skills and encourage each other all the time. I would be lying if I said that we do not have disagreements. We do and that’s a given in every relationship, but how we get over the disagreements without hurting each other is worth appreciation. I believe that for any relationship to work, always the individuals involved must be committed to it.

Students can gauge a lot when they observe teachers interacting with each other. It affects their social skills too. Impressions are formed in these formative years; hence, teachers should conduct themselves responsibly. Happy teachers make happy students. Two students once remarked when they saw me with a close friend, “Miss, our friendship is like yours!” This talks volumes about the way students observe teachers. Our school can proudly boast about such robust relationships between teachers.

Though not scientifically proven, it is believed that teachers have the biggest hearts with a place for every student and every teacher too! At the end of the day, to forge powerful relationships, teachers should ask these three questions:
Am I open to suggestions?
Am I mindful of the feelings of others?
Am I honest in my dealings with my colleagues?

If the answer is a ‘no’, ask yourself if you can take specific actions that can help achieve this, if you can initiate conversations that can bridge the gap that has been created due to miscommunication and if you can work on your weaknesses.

If the answer is a ‘yes’, you are bound to have healthy relationships that you will foster and cherish forever.

The author heads the Department of Economics at Bombay Scottish School, Powai. She is also one of the lead mentors of the Teachers Help Teachers community which aims at empowering the teaching community. She enthusiastically teaches English and economics. Her lessons on appreciation of Language and Literature and understanding the processes of the financial market while making real-life connections helps mould the students into confident and thinking individuals. She can be reached at lakshmi.sengupta@bombayscottish.in.

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