Yesterday afternoon I hosted a pool party at my house. It was great fun for the kids, but, as many play dates are, it was really all about the moms having an opportunity to get together. We chatted about parenting and husbands, high school reunions and family vacations. We shared new places to check out this summer, worked through current challenges and once in a while even touched upon what brought us all together in the first place – school.

You see, the amazing ladies I had over yesterday are not only my friends – they are also my colleagues. They have been my tribe, in and out of school, for the better part of the last decade. We have seen each other through just about everything – difficult superintendents, premature births, nasty emails from parents, more ear infections than even seems humanly possible, never ending faculty meetings, arguments with spouses and parents, milestones met and missed, job loss, gossipy parking lot talk…you name it, we’ve likely been there. I would not be nearly the teacher, mother or person that I am today if they were not in my life.

I write that not to brag, but to remind us all how important it is to take time to create and nurture solid relationships with our colleagues – they are our school family, after all. It’s very easy to become isolated as the lone arts teacher in your school.

Many schools, mine included, have only one specialist for each subject area. There’s a lot of work to do and no one to share the workload with you. It often means lunches spent planning and prepping instead of recharging. It often means that no one really gets what you do. We don’t have the built in collegial relationships that grade level teachers often have just by the very nature of them doing the same work at the same time. It doesn’t mean we can’t make it work – it means we need to work more intentionally to build our tribe.

Your tribe doesn’t have to be people who do the same thing as you. Mine certainly is not – the group I had over yesterday included an art teacher, a social worker, a kindergarten teacher, a special educator, a first grade teacher and a teacher’s aide. Our school nurse, speech therapist, administrative assistant, librarian and other grade level teachers couldn’t join us yesterday, but often do. We are a diverse group, but we have each other’s backs. We have relationships built on mutual respect and an understanding that we are all working towards the same end goal, even if our paths may look very different. We don’t always agree – in fact, we often disagree – but we never let it become personal.

So how do you build a solid tribe? One word – intentionally.

Here Are 8 Tips To Build Your Tribe:

  1. Look for the movers and shakers in your school. You’re not looking for the ones who create drama or complain about problems. You’re looking for the ones who create change – the ones who initiate solutions. Those need to be your people.
  2. Once you’ve figured out who should be in your tribe, get to know them both personally and professionally. Make a point to see them in action with students.
  3. Take time to share your viewpoint on the educational world and to truly understand theirs.
  4. Work with them on committees and special projects.
  5. Find areas you can build common agreements – as it’s those agreements that will decide if your relationships are strong enough to withhold the inevitable challenges that arise in any school environment.
  6. Show them that you are willing to work your tail off, both in and out of your classroom, to create success.
  7. Stay upbeat, positive and fun to be around – especially in the times when it’s the hardest.
  8. Choose to be part of something larger than just the four walls of your classroom.

It takes time and energy, but the payoff is huge. Over time, you will find it takes less energy to advocate for your program because the real movers and shakers already see your viewpoint. You will find that school becomes less a place to work and more a second home. You will find that the challenging times are easier to navigate because you’re not doing it alone.

But what if you can’t find a tribe in your school? It happens…sometimes, for a variety of reasons, building a tribe within your school just doesn’t work. It can be an overarching school culture issue or a scheduling issue or a whole host of other issues. That’s when you need to look beyond your school community and build your professional tribe elsewhere.

Look to local, state and national teaching and advocacy organizations. Look to groups on social media sites. Look here. The Artistic Edge is here to be part of your tribe. We want to help you navigate the challenges and hear all about your successes in your classroom. We want to have your back. We want to be a part of your success as an educator. We are here to listen, to advise and to support as needed. Comment here, shoot us an email, send up a smoke signal if you have to…but be in touch!