In a series of team building activities a colleague ran for each Key Stage 3 year group last summer, students were given a scenario: in order to be rescued from this desert island, you must work together to create a tall beacon. They had about a dozen long bamboo sticks and some string with which to prop up a medium-sized ball as high as possible, without any other support.
Through trial and error, most groups realised that they could be most successful by leaning sticks against each other and tying them up. Imagine a teepee frame. Success required several sticks; one or two wasn’t enough.
If we want to be successful as teachers and not collapse under pressure, we need to be like the bamboo stick beacon. We need to find ways and time to hold each other up.
Indeed, time is perhaps the biggest challenge where this is concerned, but there are numerous small ways we can support each other that don’t require much time at all. We can start by being mindful and managing our own emotions. Our word choice and tone of voice can have more impact on those around us than we realise. One colleague returned to our office after a meeting feeling deflated because of two words that were said in an offhand manner: “Oh whatever.” Take a few microseconds to hold back on any unnecessary, possibly sarcastic remarks.
Build each other up through a thoughtful comment or e-mail. If a colleague has led a staff briefing or you caught a glance of something interesting they were teaching in a lesson, make your appreciation known. Even a two-sentence e-mail can make a difference and it takes less than a minute to write. It can be both encouraging and empowering.
Teachers helping other teachers is so important. Offer to help whenever you are able to. The more people offer to help each other, the more offers of help they’re likely to receive. It’s sort of the golden rule meets the “many hands” adage.
If you can, take time to listen to each other and build on your relationships with colleagues. One of my favourite things to do once students have gone home and before I crack on with planning and marking is to have a brief catch-up with a colleague. It takes five to ten minutes. Find a colleague, ask how their day was, listen. Chances are that they will return the favour.
There are many benefits to supporting one another. By listening and being mindful, your communication improves. By communicating with your colleagues you can draw on each others’ expertise. When you help each other out, you are developing yourselves as leaders. Research in 2011 suggested that a friendly work environment could have a positive effect on your health; a school should be a friendly, supportive community and that includes supporting supply and support staff too. Author Katie Kacvinsky says it well: “It’s amazing how far you are willing to go when someone believes in you.” Truly, the support we offer one another makes us better at what we do and makes what we do more bearable.
A beacon light can be a warning, signal, or celebration. The beacon we make together should be a celebration of strength in community, not a call for rescue.