4 ways to rebuild staff connections when schools return

Staff need to feel connected to each other to ensure a thriving school environment - here are four ways to achieve that

Liz Cloke

Teacher wellbeing: 4 ways to rebuild staff connections when schools reopen

Teachers want to be connected; to our students, to our teams and to the wider school community.

Connection creates healthy relationships between colleagues and adds value to our lives, both personally and professionally.

Whether your connection is sharing something humorous from your lesson in a brief corridor chat during a lesson changeover, or an agreement on a curriculum change in a collaborative planning session, these interactions connect us and make us feel seen, heard and valued.

Schools reopening: Rekindling teacher connections

So as schools around the world slowly approach going back, here are some simple but effective ways to slowly rekindle those all-important staff connections.

1. Make time

No one wants meeting overload but meetings can be a great way to build staff connections.

You might have a spontaneous breakfast get-together or a more proper calendered meeting. Either way, it’s an important chance to see everyone, read facial expressions, share the positives, give thanks and get colleagues interacting with each other.

And make sure they are not just standard "catch-up meetings" but consider collaborative planning time.

By giving colleagues a voice, you allow teams and individuals to share information, maintaining trust, transparency and an open environment, as well as reestablishing purpose and priorities.

2. Wellbeing ideas

It’s important to ensure that staff wellbeing is given due prominence. In our school, our Wellbeing Committee organises optional events, from mindfulness sessions to secret Santa, activity afternoons and online quizzes.

These all create positive interactions and introduce colleagues outside of school work through mutual personal interests.

You may not need to do something as formal to start to boost wellbeing, though: perhaps have an open invite for a lunchtime walking club, or a get-together that moves from classroom to classroom each week.

Obviously, anything like this will need to be mindful of rules of distancing and hygiene but keep to these rules and the benefits will be worthwhile.

3. Care and kindness  

Now, more than ever, staff at all levels need to look out for one another.

Build relationships with opportunities to listen with the same enthusiasm that you want to be listened to. It’s important to recognise who may need extra support.

Acknowledging and sharing appreciation creates positive emotions and helps to build relationships. Simply reaching out to say a simple thank you goes a long way.

There are different methods to share gratitude, from leaders arranging time for students to write messages to their teachers, to personalised postcards to a shout out for a colleague in a staff briefing.

Effective communication gives everyone a voice, and we must listen. Show kindness and empathy, be authentic, to develop relationships, and respect the need for different ways to connect.

4. Professional networks

Setting up professional learning communities or working parties gives colleagues a chance to reach out to make connections beyond immediate teams.

This is something schools have always done, but right now they could be especially important to help rebuild physical connections – at a safe distance, of course – and have a chance to think about more "normal" things beyond the pandemic.

Consider where you could also offer a shadowing opportunity for an aspiring middle or senior leader; buddying up colleagues or forming triads to encourage learning conversations, new discoveries and shared interests to forge new friendships.

It’s a win-win as we thrive through knowledge-sharing and our common goal to make a positive difference for colleagues and students.

Liz Cloke is head of secondary at Tenby International School, Penang, Malaysia. She tweets @misscloke

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