Last school year when I was not teaching students I had a rare opportunity. In my role as workshop facilitator, my school hired me to do two separate professional development events with office and support staff. The group included members of the business office representing accounting, payroll, human resources, marketing, alumni affairs and admissions; administrative assistants from the three school divisions, counseling department, main office and the director’s office. Teaching faculty can sometimes forget how the people in these roles actually hold the school together and I considered it a tremendous privilege to be able to work directly with this group of colleagues.
What I learned in working with this group was how generously they dedicated their energies to making the school run smoothly and how little outward acknowledgement and appreciation they experienced in their day-to-day interactions. Also, regular opportunities for them to come together as a group to see, acknowledge and appreciate each others’ strengths were rare.
As educators we widely espouse the importance of relationships: cultivating them, making space for them, encouraging diversity in their make-up. And yet I fear it is not uncommon for us as teaching staff in our infinite hustling to neglect and even dismiss relationships with our non-teaching colleagues who work in the same building and are also striving to make things alright for kids and adults. There’s the hierarchy thing: faculty tend to carry greater status than administrative personnel – they likely hold more degrees and receive considerably higher salaries. Support staff are in charge of picking up loose ends, collecting dropped balls, and pulling things back together in ways that allow us to forget that there was ever a glitch or problem. And that forgetfulness is precisely where the difficulties begin.
This post is a shout out to all the assistants, secretaries, nurses, cafeteria, grounds and custodial staff and operations folks who insure that we are insured, get paid, have family and student info, coordinate our subs, liaise with transportation services, process our supply orders, that our classrooms are cleaned, that our students are fed, feel safe and welcomed.
After saying, “Thank you,” to your non-teaching colleagues, try asking “How’s your day going?” Recognize the wealth of humanity right there taking care of all manner of details, large and small in and around our schools. Take a moment to consider with students (!) how these potentially less visible members of the school staff contribute to the school community. Pre-K and KG tend to get this right. The rest of us could take a cue from their example.
If we really believe in relationships the way we say we do, evidence of our connection to non-teaching colleagues must be tangible and genuine in our school offices, hallways, playgrounds, and parking lots. There are many ways to be a connected educator. What I am suggesting here is one of our most vital, yet overlooked means.