Are you someone people like to work with? Or not? It’s too easy to blame others when we aren’t happy in a situation.
We’ve been in the teaching game long enough to know there are certain people we avoiding getting stuck on committees with. We know it will be stressful and someone always ends up rage eating.
We will be the first to admit that we have been all the things we’re about to tell you, so take our advice with a grain of salt (on the rim of a margarita is recommended). No one is the perfect teaching teammate. It’s all about reciprocation.
It’s about the give and take.
Like I will give you a margarita or I will take that margarita. Wouldn’t that be nice, but…
When things are too much give or too much take, everything falls apart. So, whether you mostly give or you mostly take, it’s time to balance things out to be a teaching teammate.
The Anatomy of Givers and Takers
If you’re like us, you get bombarded with a bunch of random things that need to get done over the course of a school year and NONE of them have anything to do with teaching, planning or assessing students.
Some of these committees, meetings and events are “make work” projects because someone sitting in an office somewhere needs to feel good about themselves and while that sucks, it doesn’t change whether or not they have to get done.
Takers will sit back and let the givers do the work. Or the takers will make the job so unbearable with their constant arguing about how something should get done that the givers will end up doing all the work.
Side Note: I think this comes from an entrenched cooperative learning strategy in the eighties where the smart kids were paired up with the learning challenged or behaviorally creative kids to do group projects. Now, that’s not scientific, but it makes sense. You decide which kid I might have been.
If you’re a giver, you need to do everything in your power to avoid working with the takers. You’ll know who they are because they’ll borrow your things without asking, leave their kids in your supervision without letting you know and generally make everything you do take longer because their needs come first.
If you’re a taker, you need to get you head out of your butt and help out because you’re burning out the people around you.
How Can You Help as a Teaching Teammate?
Sign up and help with what you can
If you can’t sing, don’t volunteer to be the concert director. Likewise, if you hate basketball, why are you the coach? The students will pick up on your negativity, so do what you love (or at the very least can do). If you don’t like working with a group of teachers, choose committees or teams that are more solitary. If you like to share the load, pick a committee with people you work well with or at least can compromise with.
The key here is to sign up for something. Be proactive and sign up for something that you can use as a reason you can’t sign up for something else. Be strategic.
Your teammates will be counting on you. And some of them will literally count how many committees you’re on to see if you’re pulling you’re weight.
People are more likely to help out when you know exactly what you need from them. They are more likely to work with you if they know they can depend on you.
There is nothing more frustrating than having a special event where the person who is supposed have all the information doesn’t have a clue. This doesn’t mean you need to have spreadsheets and charts, but keep your helpers and teammates in the loop.
And, if you’re organized you are more likely to solve problems (because there are always problems) before they become incidents.
Hint: If you’re a Type A work with other Type A and if you’re Type B work with other Type B. This is how nature intended it.
If you need a simple one-page planner, we have a few in our Resource Library. We can also email you one when you sign up for our email list. We use to write out our weekly goals and since it’s short and sweet, you can make yourself a whole pile of them to use whenever you need them.
Learn to delegate and ask for help
This means you need to understand when and how to ask for help from others. When you are dead, no one will care if you single-handedly ran 34 events in a single school year (see about the rule about being organized).
Asking for help is a skill and takers suck at it. Takers will drop tasks on members of their team without notice and often without clear instructions. Givers will take this and run with it (and cry in the car later) but other takers will complain about you to other takers.
The key to asking for help is to actually ask for help. Don’t assume that dropping hints about needing help is enough and don’t assume people have time to help you.
Givers struggle with asking for help because they are usually the person doing the helping. Resist the urge to help with everything.
Takers need to step up and help more often. Share the load.
Learn to say “no”
This does not mean never sign up for anything, but does your school need a crazy event every week? Maybe the staff needs a reminder about the teaching aspect of school instead of raising money or collecting items or hosting events every week.
Sometimes saying no is more of a redirection.
This comes from good leadership and good communication. If your administration love to have school events daily, maybe you can approach them with a plan about how this can be slowed down.
Suggest a calendar where all staff are required to enter events. Our school uses Google Calendar. If you are planning an event and it overlaps, then you have to reschedule. The person who put the event in the calendar gets the right of way and there’s always a record of the changes made to the calendar. (This has been a lifesaver several times when events are magically deleted or changed without the event organizer’s consent.)
Trim the fat
Sometimes years of traditions need a trim. Our school has held many events over the years, but some of them are no longer relevant to our current school population. It was time to let some of them go so that new traditions, events and activities can take place.
Say goodbye to the swim team of one and say hello to our basketball team and zone champions!
Another way to trim things is to change how you’re doing them. Our school takes part in the annual Terry Fox Run. Every school across Canada does and the event is not going anywhere.
An Anecdote to Explain
One year we had a huge assembly, went running for an hour, came back in and had another assembly, spent the afternoon making cards for cancer patients and then watched a movie about Terry Fox. It was the whole day. Now, that isn’t a huge problem, but it was the same week as testing in my classroom so I spent the one day we had to review at these mandatory events.
The next year I signed up for the event. In the weeks before the run we sent out ideas for lessons that could be done in the classroom over the month of September. Our class made a short commercial to tell students to bring a donation and tell them a little about Terry Fox. We sent it to classes along with links to resources for teachers. That morning right after classes took attendance they went outside to run around the schoolyard and drop off their donations. We ran for about an hour and then headed back inside where my class counted the donations and returned the money to the office. We made an announcement about the donations raised and done.
Some teachers complained about how brief the day was (mostly the ones that had been at the school for fifty years), but most were happy that A) they didn’t have to do any extra work and B) they had 3/4 of their school day to teach.
We said no and it worked.
You’re not alone
Now if you have difficulty saying no, then you’re not alone. Most givers struggle with this, but as someone who always took on more work for others than was necessary, it can be done. It takes practice. It’s just like any other muscle and the more you use it, the easier it works. Try practicing with friends, role-playing or even just saying it to yourself in the mirror. That heart-racing, fear sweaty feeling will go away with time and practice.
Say thank you
Sometimes reminding people you appreciate them goes a VERY long way. Saying thank-you along the way can help minimize trauma down the road when things change at the last minute. People are more willing to help out coworkers who are grateful than know-it-alls or “I’ll just do it myselfs.”
Takers tend to forget to say thank you and givers are often motivated to do even more when they are thanked. Whether you’re a giver or a taker, say thank you to everyone who helps you-even when it’s something simple like unjamming the photocopier before they leave.
Givers and Takers Live in Harmony
Wouldn’t it be nice to not resent your coworkers? Would it be nice to not feel that others take advantage of you? Or to not feel like you’re the only one carrying the load? Life is so much better when everyone is a teaching teammate.
The truth is that there will always be givers and takers and whether you’re one or the other doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you are aware of it and actively work to balance it out.
The best teammates are the ones that return the favour. Nothing feels better than the teammate that shows up with your favourite coffee or picks up your copies from the printer. Be that person on occasion because it will be returned when you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people.
Givers need to set boundaries because takers never do. Someone said that to me once or maybe it was a quote, but regardless of where it originated, it’s true. You have to work with these people, so be a worthwhile teammate. Be a team player and when the team gets off balance, call a time out and get everyone back on track.
Now, grab that margarita and head on over to Your Back to School Pep Talk.
What are your tips for being a teaching teammate? Leave us your advice in the comments below.