Togetherness #MonthlyWritingChallenge

What do these things have in common? A seesaw. A conversation. A hug.

Any ideas?

‘I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.’ Mother Theresa

There are some things in life we can’t do on our own. A seesaw isn’t much fun without someone there to provide the counter weight. A conversation with ourself is far lonelier than with a friend. And as we’ve all learned this past year, hugging ourselves instead of a loved one is just not the same. Sometimes we are ‘better together.’ Could this quote from Mother Theresa be any more appropriate for education?

Togetherness in learning. Togetherness in leadership. Togetherness in culture. Togetherness in our journey.

A partnership. A team. A recognition that we all have individual skills, qualities and knowledge which collectively can make a huge impact for young people.

I want to first think about togetherness in learning. I strongly believe in the quote by James Comer; ‘No significant learning can take place without a significant relationship.’ But I also believe that it is a very special kind of relationship. Not grown from friendship, over-sharing or unprofessionalism. Instead, i think it’s the learning that fuels the relationship. We aren’t there to be friends with the young people. Students won’t learn from someone they don’t trust, someone they don’t think has their best interests at heart or someone who they don’t believe really knows their stuff. Likewise, students won’t learn from someone who may be friendly, approachable and fun, if the same teacher doesn’t have high expectations and rigorous learning routines in place. Establishing positive relationships is so important. But let’s ensure this is done through the lense of learning.

I hope I do both in my classroom. Encourage sky high expectations, yet have the warmth and compassion to build trust and togetherness with pupils. I’ve talked a bit about this before, when I discussed motivation here. I think it’s important that in order to build that partnership, there needs to be an understanding that although the teacher may be the expert and the pupil the novice, working together, great learning occurs. I can recollect several occasions seeing pupils in awe of my live painting demonstration – this instantly builds trust. The pupils believe i know what I’m talking about. They trust that I have the expertise to be able to teach them. They want to learn how to do it as well as I’ve shown them. But it also requires my understanding that they are novices, and my teaching must reflect this. I need to appreciate that they need the small steps. They need clear explanations. I need to meet them where they are but encourage them to aim for the top. And it’s this togetherness which allows learning to flourish.

Creating a culture of togetherness in a classroom, or a department, or indeed a whole school is massively impactful. The notion that we are all part of the learning, that we all learn from each other and that individual interactions impact us all, is hugely powerful. I love when a real bond forms between a class. But it doesn’t just happen, it takes work. Great teachers are super skilled at this. It takes persistence and perseverance. A relentlessness in encouraging ‘the team.’ A conscious effort to use language which promotes the joint nature of the learning journey. ‘We’re going to be looking at something quite challenging today but I just know that we’ll work through it together to get great results.’ Words matter. Using any opportunity to reinforce the norm of working together, the partnership and the collective accountability is massively helpful in drip feeding the notion that we are better together.

Is this just as true when working with staff? Absolutely. For me, leadership is about bringing people with you, building others up in order that they thrive, and using the skills of the team for the collective good. Again this can’t be done in isolation. We need an appreciation of each individual within the team – what inspires them, their ‘why?’ So that we can utilise this and encourage them to thrive. We need to be human and bring our whole self to work so that we can relate to others, yet maintain our commitment to challenge directly if things aren’t going so well. As Brene Brown states, ‘Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.’ We need to admit to making mistakes, show humility and honesty to encourage this kind of culture with others. Again using the team – building trust and togetherness is the goal so that everyone moves in the same direction.

How do we create togetherness? I’ve touched on this a bit, briefly already. But firstly, I think it’s recognising that it takes time. Time and space to allow togetherness to grow. Understanding that we sometimes overestimate what can be done in a day, yet underestimate what we can achieve in a year. Relationships take time. Trust doesn’t just happen. We need to clearly communicate the shared vision. Constantly. And create opportunities to build that trust.

As we’ve certainly learned this year, life is so much better when there’s a sense of togetherness. Many of the challenges we’ve faced during the pandemic have been because our freedom to be together has been compromised. Times without face to face teaching. No Christmas dinner with family. Cancelled plans with friends.

This week as restrictions lift a little and we are allowed to hug our loved ones once more, let us remember that just like a hug, we can’t do it alone. We need each other. We need to be part of something bigger. And let’s not forget those that find it hard to be part of a team. Ensuring they are understood and valued exactly as they are, will go some way to helping their individual feeling of togetherness.

Enjoy the hugs this week and have a great one!

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