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How to Make Friends at a New School

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Before we get started, if you've been feeling overwhelmed with trying to improve your classroom management, you might want to check this out...

Show Notes:

8 Tips for New Teachers

I've been there - I know how hard it can be to be the new teacher on staff at a new school. You can feel like you are starting from scratch, and it isn't always easy to make your way into existing cliques and grade level teams.

However, you are not alone. Let's talk about 8 ways you can trouble-shoot when you have this problem, starting right away:

  1. Start Early: 

    (In the summer, if you can) If you are reading this before the school year starts, reach out to your administrator to get the contact information for your grade level team.

    Then, reach out and invite them out to do something fun, just to get to know each other, before the busy school year starts. As you become more familiar and comfortable with each other, ask lots of questions and try to get a feel for how things work at your new school.

  2. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone:

    Making new friends anywhere is really all about getting out of your comfort zone, especially if you are naturally introverted. You will need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and start taking small risks. Here's how:

    a) Decide on 2-3 people you’d really like to get to know better at your school.

    b) Commit to stopping by their classrooms on a regular basis, just to say hi. Compliment them on something or ask for advice/help about something. Just get into the habit of making regular visits to their room.

    c) Schedule an alert into your phone and make yourself stick to it. I know - this might sound a little corny, but it works. Staying consistent about these "small touches" over time will help other people to get comfortable with you!

  3. Invite a Teacher to Do Something Outside of School: 

    Once you’ve visited a few people's classrooms for a few weeks and you are feeling a little more comfortable, choose one person and invite them to do something after school that will encourage you both to actually leave school by 4:30 p.m. (for example) one day each week. This will not only help to solidify your relationship by having a weekly commitment, but it will be helpful for you both to work on establishing more of a work-life balance.

  4. DO NOT Talk about ANY Other Staff Members:

    Once you do start making connections and spending more time with other teachers outside of school, be sure to maintain your professionalism when you are together. As you have heard from the stories I shared on this week's podcast, you just never know how any staff members are connected! And, although it’s really, really tempting to talk about “that student” who is driving you crazy – don’t do it.

  5. Be Aware of "Top Dog" Syndrome: 

    If you have been trying to connect with other teachers at your grade level but it feels like they are just not into it or they aren’t being very nice to you, you might be dealing with “Top Dog” syndrome.

    Other teachers at your grade level may be feeling threatened by you. I had a teacher at my school be extremely warm and welcoming when I first started teaching 2nd grade, and I was very grateful.

    However, she then accused me of taking everything she did and making it better – and became jealous and resentful when the superintendent’s granddaughters asked to be in my class and not hers, year after year.

    There was nothing I could do to make our relationship better other than to take the passive role, which I did, until things calmed down and she became kinder again.

    Sometimes (often) it really has nothing to do with you.

    Here’s what I would do and what I would say to a colleague who I’m struggling to get along with: 

    “Hey, I know that there has been a lot of tension between us, and I am so sorry for however I have contributed to that. I know how crazy busy your schedule is, but I wonder if we could find a way to get together sometime this weekend outside of school to talk about what’s been happening and how we can improve things moving forward. I truly want to be the best teacher I can be, and I apologize if the fact that I’m still learning has made this year more challenging for you. When and how can we get together? I’m happy to flex with whatever will work for you.”

    It’s also really helpful if you get or develop a fantastic new resource or idea or teaching tool to share them with your team. Being generous goes a long way towards building trust and removing feelings of jealousy or feeling threatened.

    Genuinely work to draw them closer and be sure to take an honest look at your own behavior to be sure that you aren’t contributing to the problem – and if you are, a genuine apology goes a long way towards starting to rebuild a relationship that might have gotten off to a rocky start.

    If the problem continues, or if this becomes abusive and you feel like you are being bullied (or there is no genuine interest in improving the relationship), if you are a union member, the first step should be to reach out to your rep.

    Get more information about your district’s workplace harassment and bullying policies, and ask about what kinds of resources and support are available to you.

    If you feel comfortable with one of your school administrators, you can and should go to your administration to seek counsel. It isn’t healthy for you to live in this environment all year long.  Also, start documenting everything that has already happened (as a timeline) and include this effort to reach out so you can show proof of a genuine effort to work things out with her if and when you have to go to your admin.

    So, if it’s getting bad, DO NOT SUFFER IN SILENCE FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR. Please. Get the support you need from your district rep or from your administration.

    In the end, remember that the only person you have control over is yourself, so what I find most helpful when I’m in these situations is to minimize my interactions with that teacher as much as possible, and focus all of my attention away from them and instead, onto being the best I can for my students.

    There will always be people who don’t like you or the way you do things, and that’s okay. That’s their problem, not yours. What other people think of you is none of your business, right? Those aren’t your people. If you’ve taken an honest look at your own behavior and you’ve owned whatever part you’ve played in the situation, that’s all you can do. And, you might not have even done anything wrong.

    So, let’s talk about ways to find YOUR tribe and to take the focus off of relationships that might not be going well and instead focus your energy and your love and your positivity on people who fill you up instead of on those who might bring you down.

  6. Find a Way to Serve Inside Your School: 

    Another way that you can make some genuine friendships and connections at your new school is to ask your principal how you can get involved, OR just go directly to another teacher and offer to help out with an already established club.

    There’s an amazing expression that I’ve come to live by – and in fact, was the inspiration behind starting this very podcast & blog. I truly believe that when you’re feeling helpless, if you’re feeling alone and not sure of your next step, the best thing you can do is to help someone else.

    I wasn’t sure what I wanted my next step to be in terms of finding my place online in genuine support of teachers, and it wasn’t until I decided to serve, by committing to doing this podcast every week for you, that I began to find my community online, that other teachers started reaching out to me and now we are developing this incredible and intimate online space that is safe for new teachers to gather inside our Private Beginning Teacher Talk Facebook group. And it all started because I made the decision to serve.

    Honestly, if you’re feeling like you’re having a hard time finding your place and your people inside your new school, finding a way to serve outside of your classroom is an amazing way to make genuine connections with other people at your school and feel less alone.

    I can attest to the power of this from my own experience. Marjorie Andrews was an amazing teacher at our school. She was one of those very calm, very centered, and super loving people that kids and adults just gravitated towards. Her special gift or talent was in art, and I’ve always loved art. So, when I found out that she ran a craft club at our school, I decided that I just needed to get involved. I spent every Tuesday and Thursday during my lunch hour doing crafts with Marjorie and her craft club.

    Talk about getting lessons in master teaching! Oh my gosh – I picked up some AMAZING tricks and tips – and because we were spending so much time together, other teachers started to accept me and interact with me more because I became part of conversations she was having with other teachers who came by while I was in her room.

    Finally, when Marjorie retired, I took over the craft club and continued her legacy, and eventually became the art specialist at our school, even placing the annual order for art supplies for our school each year. Suddenly, I became the go-to expert and resource for other teachers in art – something I hadn’t expected. Amazing things can come out of just following an interest and offering to serve.

    So, if you’re feeling a little lost and powerless and alone at your school, find a way to volunteer and to serve outside of your classroom because you just never know where it will lead.

  7.  Find a Way to Serve Outside Your School: 

    That leads me to my next piece of advice to you. If you’re having a hard time fitting in and knowing how to connect to and make new friends at your school, think of ways to connect with and again, serve, outside of your school to give you access to a broader support network of teachers on a regular basis. Let me give you an example.

    When I was teaching in Alberta, our provincial teaching organization was called the Alberta Teacher’s Association (A.T.A.). Every year, the ATA would ask for volunteers from each school to serve on the Convention Committee for our annual regional teacher’s convention.

    NOBODY wanted to do this job at our school because it meant going to a meeting on a Tuesday night, twice each month. That’s a lot of extra meetings that no teacher wanted to go to (even though we got free dinner)...

    However, being the new teacher at our school, I felt some pressure to volunteer. So, I did it for the first year, and to my surprise, I basically ended up getting a masters in education politics just by being around the amazing group of teachers that I ended up spending time with at these meetings.

    Because here’s what I was lucky enough to learn by ending up at these meetings kind of by default – I was making connections with the leaders – with the strongest, most capable, and most impressive educators from schools across our district. I mean, these teachers had clout – they were a force to be reckoned with, and I was now on their team. I was on the inner circle – all because I decided to serve.

    It was because of those connections and being exposed to ideas and possibilities outside of what I currently knew in my small world as a new 2nd grade teacher that I had the courage to submit my first presentation proposal for our conference. I would never have done that – I wouldn’t have ever thought that I might have something to offer – if it weren’t for the encouragement of those teachers, telling me to submit a proposal – and also, actually knowing the head of the proposal review committee and asking her what they wanted. :-) 

    Years later, it was the five years I dedicated to serving as a volunteer with the A.T.A. that qualified me for a prestigious, provincial $15,000 entrance scholarship when I started my PhD. So again, you just never know how your decision to serve and to get involved can come back to you in ways you couldn’t have imagined.
  8. Get Bold and Get Them to Come to You: 

    My last piece of advice to you is to get bold and to challenge you to start something new yourself.

    Maybe you can start a club you run before school, during lunch break, or after school. I used to run a Pilates class before school a couple of days a week. Later, I started a homework club for older students to come and help my little ones with homework, and then we’d reward them by having some kind of a party like a hot chocolate party in the winter or an ice-cream party once the weather warmed.

    Starting your own club, like Marjorie Andrews did with her art club, can draw help and support from other teachers, especially if you stop by their room and invite them to be part of it with you.

    Or, maybe you want to start something for your fellow staff. One of my colleagues started a Soup & Salad Lunch Club on Fridays as a way to gather everyone in her room. It was so awesome – she would send out the menu by email on Thursdays and invite everyone to get their order in to her by Friday morning, and then she would place the order for everyone so we could all come to her room to have lunch together. Once we had more teachers join, and we were up to more than a half-dozen teachers, we split up the ordering so another teacher took on some of it, but it was such a fun and easy way to stay connected once each week.

    Another thing you can do is to plan and host a Happy Hour. You could just send out an email to invite teachers to join you for a Happy Hour on Friday after school.

    Whatever you decide, the important thing to realize is that you do have choices and you are not as powerless as you think. I challenge you to get bold and just try some of these ideas. Even if they don’t work out, I encourage you to keep trying different things until you figure out what will work for you at your school and in your specific teaching context.

    Just remember that building relationships takes time. You will eventually find your tribe if you keep putting yourself out there and making the effort you need to.

So there you have it! I hope you'll try out some of these ideas, and remember that you can always reach out to me for extra help and support inside our Private Beginning Teacher Talk Facebook Group. 

I hope you have a wonderful week and remember - just because you are a beginning elementary teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one!

Bye for now,

πŸ’› Lori

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.

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