In the context of systems culture and climate, I’ve been fortunate to have had several conversations with teachers and admin about relationships in their organizations and how they impact overall culture and climate. What has been interesting is how it struck me the other day, when exploring this topic again with a group, how deep the difference is between personal relationships in the work environment and professional relationships. What does it actually look and sound like?
Talking with a group of teachers about the condition of their relationships, I started to hear a common thread of responses I have heard from many teacher groups from diverse communities. They all seem to agree that “we’re good” “we have each other’s back” “we go out all the time after work” “we know about each other’s families”. As I listened, I heard the personal side of relationships but what about the professional side. The fact that we work together, in this building, as professional educators honing our craft side by side. So I thought I’d ask a stretch questions and challenge them to think deeper about what “relationships” could mean. I asked a simple questions…what professional strategies do you use to grow your professional relationships? It was silent. I had confused looks and loss for words. One teacher then said, “What do you mean? Can you give us an example?” So I followed with another questions… “Do you do Instructional Rounds? Collaborate in a PLC model? Use Japanese’s lesson studies?” I could see the lightbulbs going off. The paradigm shift just happened! So cool by the way when you can witness that with a group! Now the teachers were buzzing and thinking and listing all the ways they interact professionally in their daily work around content and instruction. “But how is this related to relationships?” I asked.
My own thoughts became clearer as I had the privilege to explore this with them. Allow me to be simplistic for a moments when explaining this next section. The whole purpose of a PLC is to better understand each other’s style of instructional design and delivery of a lesson so that student learning is at its highest quality. Being in each other’s classrooms for focused instructional rounds, helps us build our knowledge of each other professionally, observing and dissecting how we build a culture of learning within our own classrooms. Planning a common lesson, watching each other teach it, and providing feedback about the expected or unexpected student learning and performance is the point of Japanese’s lesson studies. There it is! The whole point of using these strategies IS to build our professional relationships! Why is this so critical and what are the possibilities to impact culture and student growth? Imagine if your relationships were strong both personally and professionally. Now imagine your next staff meeting, data mining meeting, RTI meeting, IEP meeting, grade level meeting, district initiative meeting…when someone (anyone) spoke at the table to give their perspective…we would exactly understand where they were coming from and why they thought the way they did. When we grow our professional relationships, we build a deep context of what each individual faces and how that shapes their perspective. This base of strong relationships impacts the level of our decision making, the interdependence of decision making, and the vertical alignment.
If it’s all about the relationships we have, then we owe it to ourselves to build both our personal work relationships as well as our professional relationships within our organizations. This level of cultural relationships has a long standing impact on the work environment and seeps into all other areas of organizational culture like communication, innovation, satisfaction, pride and quality of work to name a few.
How well do you know each other personally & professionally? What can you start to do right now to strengthen both?