Bedrock: Supporting Structures
Supporting structures provide a solid foundation for the whole ecosystem. Similarly, school structures like leadership style, allocation of resources, and time and space need to be aligned so that E2E relationships can thrive.
Although strong relationships with leaders do not always fully translate to strong relationships between educators, or vice versa, leadership has an undeniable effect on E2E relationships. When relationships between educators and administrators are strong and positive, it establishes a relationally-rich school culture and a foundation of collaboration that influences collegiality and execution of shared goals and commitments (Collie et al., 2015; Kouzes & Posner, 2009; Price, 2012; Renshaw et al., 2015; van Horn et al., 2004). Relationships flourish when leadership intentionally makes time and space for professional and personal connection (Fournier et al., 2019).
How does your leader directly or indirectly influence the relationship you have with other educators? The school administrators do a lot to set the tone, model good relationships, and build the culture and community amongst staff.
—An educator, on how leadership sets the tone for strong relationships
Note: Relationships can shatter if leadership handles major events inappropriately, such as responding to a community tragedy with cold attitudes, or playing down discriminatory incidents. Weak or negative relationships with administrators can eat away at a positive school climate, and relationships between educators can suffer.
Practice what you preach. Leaders are role models in cultivating strong and positive relationships with educators.
Engage with educators using the same relationship-building strategies you expect educators to use with students.
Make the time to connect with educators to get a pulse of the school’s climate.
Advocate for educators.
Fully commit to and execute initiatives that strengthen relationships (e.g., mentoring programs, protected time for coffee breaks).
Take a genuine interest in supporting educators' teaching and professional development.
Step up to offer resolutions when internal or external conflicts arise.
Authentically trust educators and provide them with autonomy.
Refrain from favoritism and other practices that create friction or hierarchy among educators.
Explicitly state clear norms and expectations for fostering a positive relational climate.
Educator-to-educator relationships are influenced by politics both externally and internally. Factors such as the allocation of funding and resources, policies, or influence from unions can influence the culture of relationships among educators.
To navigate the politics within and beyond school walls, educator self-efficacy and collective efficacy are critical to empowerment (Aldridge & Fraser, 2016; Goddard, 2001; Goddard, Hoy & Woolfolk, 2004; Rutherford, 2006). The synergy between autonomy and trust creates ideal conditions for relationship building, whereas autonomy without trust can leave educators feeling unsupported and ignored.
What are some dynamics that you navigate in your school, and how do they influence the relationships you have with other educators?
Sometimes, when people are asked to cover or substitute for a class, the person being asked can feel put upon, like things aren't even, or they're not sure why somebody has a freer schedule than they do. Another example is how ours is a for-profit school so we don't have a public salary schedule. That means that we don't know where we stand in relation to one another. This is a huge issue because it ruins that feeling of being all in the same boat, all working toward the same mission.
—An educator, on how policies can impact the ability to form strong relationships
Note: Internally, power dynamics and hierarchies or perceived favoritism or sense of superiority (e.g., “old guard” mentality) all feed into the ‘micropolitics’ (Brosky, 2011; Iannaccone, 1991) in a school.
Respect educator voices and input in making school decisions.
Empower educators by offering them agency and trust to make changes that improve the school relational climate.
Be transparent in decision-making, especially regarding important processes where educators might perceive inequity (e.g., uneven workloads, transfers or promotions of position, etc.).
Be proactive about addressing issues of tension, inequities, and structural concerns.
Create and maintain a solution-focused forum for educators to voice their concerns and ideas for school improvement.
Engage and partner with the school’s union representative to deliver clear messaging to educators involved with the union
Time and Space
Unsurprisingly, lack of time or space is one of the most frequently mentioned barriers for educator relationships and school-based initiatives. Educators’ time is one of schools’ most valuable assets (Anderson, 2019), but educators are consistently starved for time to meet academic standards, carry out social-emotional interventions, and engage both meaningfully and professionally with students, colleagues, administrators, and families. As a result, relationships can easily fall to the wayside despite educators knowing how important they are.
Similar to time, physical space (i.e., proximity or lack of) is a fundamental yet often overlooked factor for educator-to-educator relationships. Segregation (e.g., separate campuses), marginalization (e.g., being assigned the basement or a 'gloomy' office), or even total lack of space (e.g., no place to even hang one's jacket) affect how often and to what extent educators can relate to one another.
Where and when do you find yourself building the most positive relationships with other educators?
I think everyone feels like they're barely surviving in general. You just get holed up in your room doing daily duties. It's hard to organically grow relationships with other people because there's just no time to do it.
—An educator, on how lack of time makes it challenging to build relationships
Consistently protect and create time for educators to connect and build relationships.
Encourage educators to use time management strategies that help them thrive (e.g., open-door time, protected individual prep time).
Integrate technology while also setting healthy limits on tech use.
Relax unrealistic expectations for constant contact, especially electronically.
Take family responsibilities and cultural events into consideration when organizing the school calendar.
Strategically put educators in proximity (e.g., office space, lunch duties) to encourage collaboration and relationship building.
Look around the school building and see if the physical space makes all educators feel welcomed (e.g., pictures on the wall, languages used, disability-friendly and accessible spaces).
Ensure educators have access to basic resources– it’s impossible to build positive relationships when educators need to contend for necessities like office space, access to textbooks, time to eat lunch, etc.