How to build truly reciprocal relationships in school

Creating bonds in the workplace that truly help one another requires bravery - but offer to help and trust others will do likewise

Gregory Adam

International schools: How to help new teachers settle in

Team building is something all teachers have done. My favourite are the ones that come with free food.

But why are companies, schools and businesses so keen to do this? To help us get on, be productive and avoid tension so we stay working for them for longer?

Perhaps this is a bit cynical but it’s also mostly true.

Employees do benefit from this, too, of course: we are stable in work, like our jobs, worker harder, and have happy, and crucially, reciprocal relationships.

Opening yourself up

This sounds obvious but to do this it involves us opening ourselves up to others – emotionally but also in terms of work: not operating in silos but seeing ourselves as part of a wider structure, where working together helps us all.

Many years ago, I taught in Vietnam, mostly in public primary schools. There was a lot of planning to do – there were up to 60 children in each class. It was very time consuming.

I remember thinking there had to be a way to reduce the workload a bit and get ahead of the curve.

I decided I would start sharing my planning for lessons on the company hard drive so other teachers in other schools could see what I was producing for lessons and use or adapt them as they saw fit.

I also hoped this might encourage others to do likewise, helping me in the same way.

Embracing concerns

I must admit, though, I was worried: the company had around 60 schools, which meant I would have more than 100 teachers judging my work, which is quite a daunting position to be in.

I spent a while reflecting on this and decided that even if there were some things I was doing poorly that others pointed out, this would also be a good opportunity to identify that, as well as hopefully sharing useful advice and lessons plans that others could use to ease their workloads

Of course, sharing like this also opens up the “risk” that your hard work will be copied and you’ll receive no reciprocal feedback

Accept the reality

This will definitely happen, so be prepared for that. However, there are two things that you need to remember.

First, this copied work will ultimately benefit the students, which is pretty much why we are teachers. If the scale and scope of your positive impact on students increase, that should be motivation enough.

Second, it always comes back around eventually: sharing ideas, resources, time and effort changes how people think about you across your school and company.

It makes people want to help and give something back in all kinds of ways. Those who do so more than make up for those who do not.

Sharing helps us all

Soon enough there were around 50 of us who were sharing resources across our company’s shared drive, which massively reduced the amount of time that was spent planning.

Furthermore, the teachers I interacted with gave me positive and constructive feedback on my lesson plans, so my lessons improved and I felt good about it.

I was able to do the same for them – thanking them for creating resources, offering insights on what worked well and what I had adapted and how it went.

The reciprocal relationships were in full swing.

How to get the ball rolling

It doesn’t have to be sharing resources that kicks these truly reciprocal relationships into life. It could be just helping out when a co-worker is struggling with something – marking or planning a tricky unit of assessment, say. It could be offering time for someone to talk about a concern or simply taking in food for people to share.

If you do this, others will do it, too. And if someone does it for you – take note, be appreciative and think how and when you can do something in return.

These are the foundations of positive reciprocal relationships. It has to start somewhere.

Gregory Adam is a primary teacher at Nord Anglia Chinese International School in Shanghai. He released his first book last year: Teaching: EFL, ESL and EAL – A Practitioner’s Guide

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