Now that school has been in session for several weeks, it’s a good time to take a pulse check on how things are going with your colleagues. Whether there is a person or team you work with regularly or you want to start collaborating more, here are some tips for getting your collaboration on the right track.
Make specific requests. Often what gets in the way of a smooth working relationship is assuming people know what we want from them. So next time your planning partner sends you something late or doesn’t ask for your input on something, instead of assuming their intentions, try making a specific request. For example, ‘Could we meet to talk about the project before you make it?’ or ‘Do you think you can send me the handout by lunch tomorrow?’ or if you are trying to start a collaboration, maybe ask ‘Would you help me design this lesson?’ or ‘Are you open to sharing your materials on this from last year?’ The beauty of making a specific request is that people can either answer yes or no, which immediately gets you more on the same page. They know what you want and you know if they’re willing to do it.
Appreciate what is working. It’s easy to obsess over what isn’t working, so take a moment and identify what is working about the relationship and then let that person know. If they are usually late and finally sent you something on time, for example, take a moment to tell them how helpful it was and how it improved your day or lesson. If your planning partner knows what you do appreciate about the relationship, they’re more likely to keep doing it. Click here for our post with strategies for showing appreciation.
Exchange feedback. If you have someone you plan closely with, it may be appropriate to schedule some time to sit down and give each other feedback on what’s working about the current arrangement and what’s not working. Now, scheduling this meeting may clue them in to the fact that you have some negative feedback for them, but as long as you stay positive and don’t allow any resentment or other negative tone into your voice, you can lead the meeting in the right direction. The other thing to note in this situation is that you not only need to be ready to share your feedback, but you also need to be open to hearing the other person’s feedback and acting on their feedback just as you’re hoping they’ll act on yours. For tips on giving feedback, try this post.
Give rationale. Whether you’re making a request or you all are giving each other feedback, include rationale for why it’s important to you. If you’re asking a veteran teacher to help you plan and they’ve been hesitant, make sure to tell him/her it’s because they have a lot of experience and have had a lot of success and you want your students to have more of that success, as well, or whatever the rationale is. If you don’t say it, that teacher may be thinking you’re just being lazy and want less work. Offering rationale helps clarify the situation and add the context necessary to move the relationship forward.
Create a plan. If you think your colleague is open to it, it could be really effective to sit down and come up with a specific plan for how you’ll work together. If you already work together closely, this may mean reassessing and revising the plan based on each other’s feedback. If you’re just starting the relationship, you might determine how often you’ll meet or agree on the kinds of things you’ll collaborate on like creating unit plans or major assessments. Part of this plan that can be really helpful is also determining a date in the future when you’ll sit down to reassess the situation and give each other feedback. Planning this meeting ahead of time takes some of the awkwardness out of giving feedback later since you’re going in assuming both of you will have feedback and planning for it versus having to try and bring up the idea out-of-the-blue when problems arise.
Reach out. If your efforts haven’t worked or you’re not sure where to start, reach out to a trusted colleague to talk through the situation. That person may be able to give you insight or perspective you hadn’t thought of before and offer strategies for moving forward. If this person is your manager, though, use caution. Getting them in trouble or pointing out problems to their boss is not a very positive way to reset the relationship.
Ask questions. No matter the situation, remembering the adage ‘Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.’ There are two sides to every situation, so remember to regularly ask questions about what they want, what’s working for them, why they chose to do things a certain way, etc. Better understanding your colleague will serve to both build the relationship and smooth the path to better collaboration.
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