Teacher training programs prepare teachers on most aspects of the profession ranging from curriculum design and up-to-date pedagogy to relationship building with students. Current events have also urged programs to include social justice issues relating to the classroom, equity, and student agency and identity. However, teaching is a multi-dimensional and highly complex career, and there are only so many courses in a training program. There are topics that teachers need to know but are rarely discussed, such as: What do we do when we have a conflict with a colleague?
I remember my fifth year of teaching, when I was really catching my stride. I felt confident as I was teaching and students were feeling engaged, eagerly raising their hands in my classroom. I also was assigned a co-teacher to support students for a few of my periods. She and I got along well outside of the classroom. However, inside the classroom, we had different student redirection styles and a difference of opinion on what we deemed was worth addressing. We both ignored the subtle tension between us during each lesson, which eventually grew into a larger daily tension during every lesson.
I knew the tension was building up as the school year progressed. I felt frustrated that the flow of every lesson was being interrupted. She felt frustrated that I was purposefully ignoring some behaviors. We were coming from two different places. An angry email was sent to our administration, which resulted in an uncomfortable arms-crossed conversation with the two of us. The administration assumed, “You two can work it out, right?” It was a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.
We eventually worked it out on our own, with empathy and without the help of the administration. We met in the middle with our personal student redirection styles and continued the school year with much less tension. Looking back, we should have had an honest and empathetic face-to-face conversation much earlier, so we could come to a mutual understanding and compromise before emotions boiled over.
As the school year goes on, teachers can get tired and conflicts can arise. Here’s what you need to keep in mind if a conflict comes up with a colleague (and it probably will, at some point):
Tip #1: Focus on the problem at hand and focus on finding a solution.
Tip #2: Be willing to compromise, especially if you’re dealing with a colleague you work closely with and on a daily basis.
Tip #3: Listen to what your colleague is saying and feeling before you respond.
Tip #4: Use your compassionate voice to take control of the situation. Do your best to listen with an empathetic ear.
Tip #5: Have this conversation away from students and away from other colleagues, if possible.
Tip #6: Do not personally insult the colleague during the conversation. Focus on the specific issue at hand, not them personally. Failing to do so will only escalate the issue.
Tip #7: Be sure not to point fingers. Instead, focus on finding a solution
Tip #8: For major conflicts, you might consider asking somebody you trust to be a mediator during the conversation, but not to solve the issue for you. Use this tactic sparingly.
Tip #9: If applicable to the situation, think: What’s best for students?
Tip #10: Consider: Could it be my colleague is just tired, stressed, or a bit on edge from being stretched too thin?
Tip #11: If the conflict is purely about saving your ego, consider letting it go.
One aspect of our profession that sets it aside from others is that our work environment is made up of people working towards a common goal: the education and wellbeing of students. That’s a beautiful thing. When teachers really care about their jobs, conflicts arise because there’s never one right way to teach or work with students. These eleven tips can help empower you during a possible conflict with your colleague. Let’s face it: when the adults in a school can navigate through tension, we create a happier working environment for ourselves and a healthier learning environment for our students.