12 Ways To Be a Supportive Teaching Colleague
This year I can officially say that I've been teaching for 20 years. I've learned so much from my students, my colleagues and my mentors, and I still absolutely love to teach. I've also probably made every mistake you can make -- being an overconfident "new" teacher, feeling threatened by other teachers, etc.. I've watched fantastic teachers, I've seen teachers struggle.
But one thing has emerged for me: the importance of cultivating a supportive community of colleagues, teachers and students. It's important not just to our sanity and health as teachers, but also to our overall endeavor of promoting the violin as a worthwhile activity for all. And it doesn't just happen, we have to cultivate that supportive environment.
How do we do that? Here's a start: I've compiled a list of ways to be a supportive teaching colleague.
- Learn to accept different ways of doing things. You may disagree with other teachers, but refrain from talking with students and parents about another teacher's faults. You can explain to parents why you do things your way without pointing fingers and accusing other teachers of being "wrong." When you publicly disrespect other teachers, you not only break trust with your colleagues, but you also show yourself to be insecure and unprofessional.
- Share your good ideas with other teachers. Let them watch your lessons. This is how we raise the the overall standard of our profession, by spreading the use of good ideas and having a free exchange that feeds all of our creativity.
- Try ideas from your colleagues and observe their lessons; it brings you closer and can enhance your teaching greatly.
- When you recommend, recommend highly. Stick with the truth, to be sure, but don't hold back your praise of other teachers' strengths.
- Help other teachers when they ask; give good advice to beginning teachers.
- See new teachers in your area not as a threat, but as an opportunity to grow your community of students. Having more students in your community will provide everyone with more opportunities for music-making, so join forces and build it up!
- When working with another teacher's student at a workshop or during the summer, take care not to damage their relationship. You might even seek to praise their "home" teacher. If you feel the student needs to change something, go about it in a positive way. Don't blame the other teacher for "teaching wrong." The problem could be something that the teacher has worked hard to fix, or that the student misunderstood. So many times, I've heard, "My teacher told me to do that!" then I discovered later that the teacher said, or at least meant, something else entirely. (I've even heard "YOU told me to do that," from my own students when I'm correcting them, because they misunderstood!)
- Participate in teaching workshops and make an effort to learn your colleagues' names and special interests. Socialize, if it seems appropriate!
- Go to other teachers' studio recitals. Nothing shows more support than being there in the audience and seeing the students at their best.
- If there are problems with a colleague, seek to resolve the problems by addressing them honestly with that colleague. Don't tell 30 other people about the problem first!
- Have your students buy sheet music; don't photocopy the music for them. This is how we support composers, arrangers and publishers that make a living by creating wonderful things for us to play! If possible, pass this attitude on to your students and their parents: that we buy the music, especially from a living composer or arranger.
- Encourage your students to support each other, not to tear each other down. Again, stick with the truth, but conspicuously praise their strengths, and encourage them to acknowledge each other. Have them play together. Don't pit the students of your studio against the students in another. Instead, think of ways to have them make music together.
I'm sure I've left some things out, please feel free to add to this list and comment!
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