Some people may debate whether or not it takes a village to raise a child, but there is no question that it takes an entire school to raise a student.
You will, individually, have a tremendous influence on the kids in your care. But they will also be dramatically affected by the other professionals surrounding you. I've always felt that it was my job to help facilitate those relationships in the best interests of my students.
School staff relationships and your students
I have found over and over again that other adults in any school where I have taught – from other classroom teachers to music teachers to lunch workers – have given my kids special consideration because they value their relationship with me.
Teachers who really care do their best to ensure that their kids have a great experience at school, no matter what activity they are involved in.
Every school job counts. It really does. And you want to be one of the teachers who shows respect and admiration for the jobs done by all of the staff members in your school. Let’s cover a few of these critical jobs; it’s important to know not only know who they are, but what they do.
Get to know your principal
No kidding, right?
But based on how I see most teachers tippy-toeing around their principals, I need to encourage you to interact. You’ll interact with your principal to some extent whether you want to or not, of course, but there are far too many teachers who only speak one-on-one with their principal in situations involving stress:
- student misbehavior
- parent complaints
Worse, there are teachers whose only private, closed-door conversations with their principals are when a breaking point of some sort has been reached and tears are flowing. Talk about a negative association!
A principal who interacts with you only when stress levels are high may rarely see you at your child-mentoring best.
So cultivate your teacher/principal relationship just as you would any staff relationship.
Here’s a secret about principals that will make this task easier: their jobs kind of suck. Why? Because they are filled with paperwork, meetings, and conflict.
This is an ideal opening for you to provide the kinds of positive interactions they’d love to have but don’t often get. You can:
- Send a struggling Special Education student who did great on a test to the office to show the principal his score. Kids really love this, and principals appreciate being able to congratulate individual students for making progress.
- Invite the principal to speak to your class briefly. Principals particularly love to do this if you can somehow tie in your school’s character education program, which they always love to talk about. Big bonus points! And – due to your expectation-setting – you get to show off how nicely your class treats visitors.
- Pop in to share your excitement over your class’s improvement in reading or math scores. Principals love it when teachers get excited about teaching, since they deal with so many who don’t.
- And finally: say “hi” whenever you are in the office. Simple, but so often overlooked.
What’s the common thread here? You are not asking the principal to do anything difficult that requires preparation; you are simply providing purely positive interactions.
This is the kind of relationship you want to have before you start those heavy discussions about classroom observations and assessments.
The staff in the front office are the ones who make it all happen – and believe me, they can make your life in school much easier. I know this firsthand because I worked in a school front office before getting my teaching degree.
There are teachers who respect and appreciate the people who do the front-office administration, and those who treat these critical support workers as if they are minions of some sort. Do NOT be one of those teachers!
At your first opportunity, introduce yourself to the office staff and ask what you need to know in order to make their jobs easier. This is not just an idle conversation starter; there are definite ways that attendance can be turned in or the lunch count can be taken that make it easier or harder for them to do their jobs.
From your perspective, it doesn't really matter what the procedure is, but from their perspective, it does.
After that, be certain to stop by every single day with something pleasant to say when you check your mailbox. And if you want super bonus points, you can even go above and beyond every once in a while. I have never hesitated to answer a ringing phone in the office to take a message when the staff was swamped with other calls or parents crowding the front counter.
Doing something as simple as taking a telephone message will separate you from the vast majority of teachers who can't be bothered.
And who do you think spends all day in close proximity to the office staff? Yep, your principal. If you make an effort with them, they will naturally end up promoting you to their boss.
Other support staff
Find your custodians and introduce yourself within the first couple of days of arriving at school. There will usually be daytime custodians and those who work at night cleaning rooms.
Want to score some points? Ask their preferences regarding how you tidy up your room at night in order to make their cleaning job easier. And while you're at it, you can confirm where to empty the garbage and recycle bins in your classroom.
Always thank them for the work they do, and teach your students to thank them as well.
Lunchroom staff and aides
You can help avoid the tangle of confusion that occurs in the lunchroom during the first week of school if you take some time to ask questions of the lunchroom staff.
It's quite common for teachers to dump their children at the entrance to the lunchroom and head off to their own free time. The staff will really appreciate it, however, if you not only understand their procedures, but also take time to set expectations and reinforce processes with your class before dropping them off at the lunchroom.
As with the custodians, teach your students to thank the lunchroom staff daily.
You will find, during your time as an elementary teacher, that there are many behavior issues that will spill over from recess into your room. Behavior on the playground can be a very difficult thing to manage, so it’s good to make allies of the recess aides so that you can get their observations to offset the “he said/she said” testimony from your kids.
The first time your students are sent out to recess, go with them and introduce yourself to the aides. Ask them to give you a quick tour of the playground to help you understand the activities that are allowed and those that are forbidden.
During this conversation, you'll get a sense of how effective they are at their jobs, which will give you the appropriate context when trying to sort out contradicting claims of misbehavior and unfairness.
Classroom aides (or paraprofessionals)
You may or may not qualify for classroom assistance. If you do, obviously, you'll get to know your assigned paraprofessional quickly. But, even if you don't, you never know when you will be working one-on one with the classroom aides, such as when they are helping to proctor tests.
Be certain to say “hi” and introduce yourself at your first opportunity and ask about their jobs.