Teaching Opinion

Finding Your Tribe as a Leader

By Starr Sackstein — December 06, 2018 3 min read
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Connection is key in our profession; the on-going need to feel understood and respected is essential to our abilities to thrive as educators regardless of the position we are in.

Not too long ago, I wrote a post posing the question “Should Administrators and Teachers Be Fiends?” After crowdsourcing thoughts, anecdotes, and concerns on both sides of the discussion, I wanted to dig a little deeper.

In education, we often speak about finding our tribe—the idea of connecting with people who share common beliefs about educational practices and also can serve as critical friends when we need them to.

We support each other so that we can traverse the often challenging landscape of our profession together.

And the thing about tribes is they don’t discriminate. Many people in my research for the first article differentiated between developing relationships with people in different roles vs. developing friendships which is certainly more personal. Some folks didn’t think it was appropriate, but I disagree.

Now before you get ready to write back screaming at how I’m wrong about that ... I’ll acknowledge that there are many things that can go awry in this situation, but there is also great strength that can grow from it. Like everything in life, some people will handle their situations appropriately and others, maybe not so much. So to make a general rule about something so nuanced and determined between individual people seems premature and judgmental.

Again, that isn’t to say I don’t acknowledge the potential rumors or gossip as well as the personal bad experiences readers shared with me privately. These things are all a risk when developing relationships that can grow into more.

But in that same regard, if we allow titles to keep us separated, then we also lose out on potential friendships and connections that can be life-changing.

As a classroom teacher, I had my share of close colleagues, but I’d also say that a few of my administrators were also close friends. We shared meals with each other. They know my family, and I theirs. They watched my son grow up, and he knew them all.

Perhaps working in a small school, as I did for such a long time, blurs lines because we all play double duty and spend a lot more time at work than in other kinds of situations, but I’m not sure that I would have lasted there as long as I did without the real friendship of those people.

The years I spent at that particular school were riddled with personal challenges, and each friend had a role to play in helping me through it, regardless of their title. Our friendships never clouded what needed to be done at work because there was a clear understanding of those expectations.

Did people talk? I’m sure, but that talk happens anyway, especially in small schools.

When I transitioned into leadership, the friends I had from my old schools, particularly the leaders I worked with, were trusted resources as well as friends in times where the greenness of my new position had me baffled. They had answers to things I didn’t even realize were going to be an issue.

Now as I settle into my new role, I’m developing close relationships with folks I work with. There is a growing working relationship that inspires me and other colleagues around me. When I’m working with the folks on our team, I don’t want to think of myself as their boss, I actually cringe when they call me that or introduce me as it. We’re colleagues. My position doesn’t matter, as we are all here to grow together.

When you spend as much time we do at school, it is hard not to get to know people well if you pay attention. Being an empathetic person, who genuinely wants to see people succeed, makes me want to understand everyone better, and that deeper understanding builds friendships.

The depth of these relationships is good for school communities and for the students we teach. We model appropriate boundaries at work and grow together as learners.

The upside far outweighs the downside on this matter, but I’m certainly open to hearing more. It all comes down to the individual. As long as we remain cognizant of our behavior and boundaries at work, there is no reason why grown adults can’t be friends, just because they met at work.

Want to weigh in on this one? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

*Photo made with Pablo.com

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.