It’s all about belonging and creating relationships! The Well-Balanced Teacher, Part 2

It’s all about belonging and creating relationships!
Thanks for stopping by for Part 2 of our Book Study: The Well-Balanced Teacher: How to Work Smarter and Stay Sane Inside the Classroom and Out by Mike Anderson. If you missed Part 1, you can catch up here. Well. . . with all good intentions, I was going to write about 2 chapters per post, but as you'll see below, there's so much good information packed into each chapter of Anderson's book! Rather than go on & on, I'm revising the schedule to below!
Belonging: Becoming an Important Part of a Community 
Isn't that we all want? In Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, "belonging" is placed just after physiological and safety needs. (Remember those basic needs we talked about in Chapter 2?) But again, although we spend plenty of time making sure our students connect and feel a sense of belonging through community building activities, assemblies, cross-age buddies, teachers tend to forget about their OWN needs. It's too easy to close our classroom doors and work in solitary (because we're so busy!)
We need to feel a positive sense of belonging AT school and OUTSIDE of school. Anderson gives some good tips on how to do this:
Seek out enthusiastic colleagues! 
Surround yourself with others who want to continue learning and developing. They will keep you motivated and going! My good friend, Elizabeth, was a one-woman welcome committee at my first school, when I started teaching 28 years ago. She not only was a friendly soul in my building, but she took me to conferences, informed me of journal articles to read, and teacher-researchers to see. Even today, I call to ask her questions or bounce off ideas!
Read education books together & start a goal-specific group! 
Motivated by teaching guru, Regie Routman, I facilitated a monthly professional book club at a former school. Participating teachers chose an area we wanted to learn more about or improve in, then we selected a book on that topic. My principal was highly supportive and “found money” to purchase books for those in our book club. We would divvy up the reading into manageable chunks, then come to the next book club to discuss what we read and/or to bring samples of student work of what we had tried. (Oh, and of course there were always snacks!) The first semester, we were a small group, but as other staff members heard us excitedly talking about what we read and what we were trying out, more joined us the next semester. There were other semesters when I’d select articles to read on our targeted growth area, rather than choose a book. Many teachers seemed to appreciate the focus and articles were not as daunting as plowing through a book. Our learning and motivation as teachers extended outside of Book Club and bonded us closer together. 
Set up observation rotations! 
Many years back, my District mandated “Learning Walks” at every school site.These Learning Walks were designed for teachers to learn from each other: parents, administrators, and other teachers would sit in on a lesson, look at room environment, listen to levels of questioning, and observe classroom management. While intimidating at first, it was GREAT to see colleagues in action!! (We teachers are guilty of closing our doors and teaching in isolation.) Conversations after the Learning Walk did NOT focus on what needed to be improved; rather, they focused on what was positive and specific to how the Learning Walk related to (at that time) content standards and good teaching strategies. Although Learning Walks are no longer mandated, it is always such a learning experience to sit in on a grade-level partner’s class. You may have to get creative in finding coverage for your class, but it’s well-worth it!
Make Friends with Professional Peers!
“A staff who plays together stays together!” Anderson suggests some ways to socialize with colleagues: meet for weekly breakfasts, happy hour, create a staff sports team or walking club, host a book club, put on a staff talent show, watch a sporting event together. I am truly blessed to be at a school where we all like each other! The majority of teachers eat together in the lunchroom at least a few times a week, rather than staying isolated in our classrooms to work (which is always tempting!) Our social committee hosts happy hours every couple of months and many of our teachers participate in a monthly book club. It’s a great time to drink wine discuss a common (non school-related) book. And our students are quite intrigued at the thought of their teachers reading "real books" and discussing just for the pure pleasure of it! We are setting a good example for them!
In previous posts, I’ve discussed how teachers at my school used to work out together at an after-school boot camp; another aspect of having fun(?) outside the school day. You can read about this here. Several of our teachers have even run 5K’s together! Many of our teachers also spend our time outside the classroom doing community service together. For the last 9 years, we have worked together to assemble and distribute survival kits for the homeless. Knowing that we have a common vision and a giving spirit has truly cemented staff members. It’s good for students to see the camaraderie between their teachers.
Avoid negativity! It’s too easy to let our frustrations get to us: mandated curriculum, District requirements, helicopter parents, or disruptive students. However, focusing on these issues is counter-productive and leaves you drained, rather than energized. At one of my schools, we had a jar in the teacher lunchroom. Every time a teacher talked negatively about a student or parent or to complain about a District issue, she/he would have to put a dollar in the jar. At the end of each month, the Complaint Cash would go towards a social event. (And just seeing that jar sitting on the table made you stop to think about what you were saying!)
Build relationship with administrators! 
Administrators are often too busy to visit each classroom on a regular basis. Be proactive and let them know all the good that’s going on in your classroom! Invite them in when you’re teaching a special lesson or if your class is putting on a performance. Copy them on home-school communication. Principals like to know what is going on in their school and they appreciate seeing what you send home. I always make an extra copy of my class newsletter and put it in my principal’s box. Pop into the office every now and then just to say hello. We tend to assume administrators are too busy, but they often feel alone in their office. (Even principals need to feel a sense of belonging!) However, Anderson cautions, “Beware of becoming too close.” Becoming buddy-buddy with an administrator can lead to ostracize you with fellow teachers; you don’t want to be seen as a principal’s pet!
Build relationship with students!
“When students know that we know them, they are more connected with school, they are more likely to persevere when challenges arise and enjoy school more!” Don Graves suggests completing a chart to get to know your students:
However, teachers should NOT become friends with students; there still needs to be a hierarchical nature to the relationship. Anderson lists some ways to (appropriately) get to know our students: build in class time for chitchat. Each morning we start our day with Morning Meeting, a time to greet one another and share out on particular topics or questions. Eat in the cafeteria every so often and sit with students (their lunch time conversation is much different than classroom discussions!). Some other ideas: start an after-school club or an optional children’s book club that meets during lunch every few weeks. Post pictures of former classes: posting pictures of former students and classes also lends a sense of history to your classroom, showing student that they are important even after they leave! Avoid social networking (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) with students; keep the relationship professional.
Build Relationships with Families! 
Be proactive: send a friendly letter home before the school year. My grade-level partner and I don’t know which students are in our classes beforehand, (and we're at a small school with only two of us at 4th grade) but we send a postcard in the summer (to those students who are registered by then) from both of us, letting students know we are excited to meet them. Create a class website to keep parents informed of class projects & dates, recommended websites, files, updates on class happenings, and post pictures. I created my class website on I’m definitely NOT a techie, but it’s so easy and it’s free. Many teachers also use Parents have appreciated access to information and it has drastically cut down their constant questions; I just refer them to the website. (I've also trained my students where to look for information!)
Parents are often used to getting phone calls or notes only when their child is misbehaving. Send notes home or call with good news. I try to be very specific when writing a note or postcard, such as “__________ had a great day! She found many ways to solve a problem in math.” Or “__________ was a kind friend; he helped another student during reading.” Often parents are speechless when I call  to say something positive or parents have told me they put my postcard on the refrigerator because they’re so proud! However, again a note of caution: "nurturing supportive and professional relationships with parents will help us better connect with our schools and better meet the needs of our students. Having close personal friends who are parents of our students can lead to conflicts of interest." (Anderson, p. 43) 

Belong to the Greater Educational Community!
Outside of your school site, you can develop relationships and foster a sense of belonging. Subscribe to a publication. There are so many wonderful national organizations out there; reading articles that pertain to your needs and interests will let you know you're not alone! Some of my favorites are The Responsive Classroom,  National Council of Teachers of English, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Connect with an online support group! There are numerous teacher blogs, teacher chat rooms, Facebook teacher groups, and Twitter is a great tool to quickly get answers to questions or keep updated. Attend conferences and workshops! Thank goodness my mentor, Elizabeth, took me to conferences and workshops! I learned so much more than from my credential classes and networked with like-minded educators.

The well-balanced teacher feels a sense of belonging at school and takes the time to develop relationships: with staff, students, and families. What do you do to get to know your colleagues and students?

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