It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Becky ThalBlog, Engage Better, Lead Better, Manage Better, Survival

In This Post:

  • The one thing every single person has in common!
  • Schools are neighborhoods & communities.
  • Ideas to build relationships with students & colleagues.

Going the Extra Mile

To say the weather here in New Jersey has been a roller coaster the past few weeks would be an understatement.  Last weekend it was unseasonably warm, with temps hovering around 65 degrees! This weekend, however, has been a different story. 

Yesterday brought snow, sleet, and rain here to the Garden State, and this upcoming week will be COLD. But while it was so beautiful last weekend, I decided to take advantage and get out for a jog in my neighborhood.

As I was approaching my house, about to finish up, I saw my neighbor walking her dog.  She lives around the corner from me, and we always exchange pleasantries, but this time was going to be different.  I was actually going to be jogging right past her, coming in closer contact than I ever have before.

I don’t know this woman well at all, and it’s no one’s fault.  When I do see her and her dog, I’m usually hurrying myself and/or my kids into our car to leave and rush off somewhere; or I pass her in the car when she’s already down the block. 

So the fact that I’d be coming pretty much face to face with her this time was actually a bit intimidating! I figured I had two choices – I could either keep my head down, earbuds in, and continue listening to my music, or I could stop and attempt to have a verbal exchange beyond “Hi.” I chose the latter.

Showing a little interest in your students' and colleagues' lives can go a long way. Click To Tweet

Finding Common Ground

I didn’t have a lot of time to think about what I was going to say to my neighbor.  Truth be told, I even forgot her first name! So, what could I say that was quick and to the point, and proved to be something we had in common?

I could talk about the weather of course! As I got closer, she looked up and smiled as she saw me coming… And then I said it. “Wow, crazy weather we are having here, huh?!” 

That started a short, but friendly, discussion about how nice it was to experience these high temps in January, and we both agreed we would soak it up for as long as possible. 

After I got home, I started chuckling to myself, thinking about whenever people don’t know what to say to each other, the first thing they seem to turn to is the weather. Then I realized it’s because it’s one of the few things everyone has in common to talk about. 

It doesn’t matter what your background is, what kind of day you’ve had, or what kind of mood you’re in – everyone can make a comment about the weather. I felt good that I didn’t take the easy way out and just pretend I was listening to my music; I actually made an effort to build a little bit more of a relationship with this lady.

Was it a major breakthrough?  No, considering I still don’t remember her name…but it was a small step in the right direction. She is part of my community and should know that I’m interested in and looking out for her (and her dog!).

Schools Are A Neighborhood

I then began thinking about how this whole concept of “community” and “neighborhood” applies to our schools as well.

Colleagues and students walk through our halls and into our classrooms everyday.  Similar to our neighbors, some we know more about than others. Some we have more in common with than others.

Yet, we are all members of the same community, and everyone should feel like they belong. So how can we go about building better relationships in our schools? 

That’s something I’ve been pondering since becoming a member of our school’s newly formed “Climate and Culture” committee. 

Small Steps to Build Relationships

At the beginning of the year I made it a point to try to build better relationships with my students.

The first few days of school they presented “Me-In-A-Bag.”  That’s where they put a few small items that represent them – their likes, interests, hobbies, etc. – into a bag and each student got to share it with myself and the class.  I presented one, too!

What I liked about this activity is that it immediately gave me a glimpse into their world. It gave me things to ask them about, such as, “How is football going?” or “How is your new puppy?” 

Nothing fancy or formal, but even today, months later, the kids really do perk up when I ask them about THEM.

Usually these brief exchanges take place first thing in the morning, before lunch, or at the end of the day. Have I felt these have improved my relationships with students? Definitely.

In fact, they are now coming up to me unprompted to share little tidbits that are going on outside of school. 

Can taking this same approach make a difference with colleagues?  Why not?

Rather than being the person in the hall “with the earbuds in, pretending to listen to music,” I’ve chosen to say hello and smile more. I like to let faculty and staff members know I’m paying attention and am interested in what’s going on in their lives.

I’m connected to many via social media, and make it a point to comment on something they’ve posted, ask them how they are feeling if they’ve been out sick, find out what they’re doing over the weekend….you get the idea.

Showing a little interest in your students’ and colleagues’ lives can go a long way.

Relationships Do Make a Difference

You may be asking yourself why building relationships with colleagues and students is even important.  Well, take it from my first hand experience, it makes EVERYTHING run smoother.

Students will generally work harder for you, and you’ll minimize discipline/behavior issues. Colleagues are also more inclined to collaborate with you when they feel acknowledged and respected. 

Is this relationship building something that happens overnight, or is easy to do everyday? Most certainly NOT.

It takes a lot of practice, and sometimes it’s really hard when there is a student or staff member that is more difficult to relate to than the others. But remember, there is ALWAYS something you can find in common and make small talk with them over – even if it’s just about the weather. 

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Becky Thal is a 5th grade math and science teacher in New Jersey and a Data Analyst for the Teach Better Team. Prior to starting her career in teaching in 2005, Becky worked for several years in advertising in New York City. She is an active member of her school staff, currently serving on several committees including SEL, Climate and Culture, and the Future Ready Team. Becky is also an active member of her community and her children’s schools. In her spare time, she enjoys trips to the beach, trying new restaurants, and attending her kids’ various games and events . Becky lives with her husband, three children and dog, Cliff, who she loves spending time with on the weekends.