A teaching partnership requires teamwork. So, what elements make a good team? A good match? A proper pairing? A good fit? What makes a partnership work well? When you have two imperfect people, what constitutes a “perfect” teacher partnership?
Let me give you some examples taken from my own 5th Grade Homeroom Team of Boss and Landrum. Sally and I have been team-teaching for six years now. When I first heard that my new teaching partner had been in the military for 10 years, I felt kind of panicked.
“The military? How is this going to work? Will we have to do push-ups before we plan lessons? Will she shout out drills as we run around the football field in the morning? Will I have to learn how to play taps on the trumpet?”
I had some serious reservations.
Fast forward to six years later. Let me begin with what works. Although we are very different, we are very similar at the core. We both love God and our students deeply. We both desire for our students to follow the Lord. We have high expectations. We work hard. We like hard work. We love the mission of our school. We are committed to it. We aim for excellence. We appreciate honor and respect. We teach our students to take ownership and responsibility. We want the best for our students.
But, sometimes how this comes across looks a little different. She’s more of a “drop-and-give-me-50” kind of gal, and I am more of a “please-and-thank-you” kind of gal. Sometimes I refer to our team as “G.I. Jane meets Emily Post.”
Let me tell you what I mean and why it works.
To begin, let me tell you a story that highlights our different personalities and communication approaches. She is more direct. I, on the other hand, tend to — motivated out of the sake of kindness or a strong desire for compassion — beat around the bush when I try to communicate.
Did you notice the difference in the structure of those last sentences? Case in point.
On one of our first parent communications as a team, we were requesting help from parents to prepare food for a student breakfast. Because of space limitations, we needed to communicate that food donations would be greatly appreciated, but that the event would be hosted for students only. I was concerned about the right way to phrase that, but Sally knew that our parents would graciously support our efforts if the expectations were clear. I was cringing as I considered the possibility of disappointing, well, anyone at all. She jokingly suggested that we type in all caps, “YOU ARE NOT INVITED, BUT PLEASE SEND FOOD. THANK YOU!”
We laughed, of course, and then I carefully and cautiously crafted an email that was definitely not as direct.
And what happened immediately after we sent it? We received an email that read, “So, are parents invited to attend?”
Unfortunately, my fear of disappointing others had caused confusion. It was well-intentioned, of course, but one thing was clear: I needed to communicate more clearly. Using too many words had destroyed the point I was trying to make. Kindness was, of course, important, but I did need to learn to be more direct.
So, six years into our partnership, what have I learned? And how are these lessons applicable for partnerships and relationships of all kinds?
1. Admit your faults. Get over them quickly. Then move on. Jonathan Edwards once wrote, “An humble man is inflexible in nothing, but in
the cause of his Lord and Master and the cause of virtue. In these he should be inflexible. But in other things of less weight, or in things which only concern his own temporal interest, he is apt to yield to others.” OUCH! I went to Sally and apologized for my inflexibility in often wanting my
own way — my own plans. She responded with a shake of her head and a chuckle, “We’re all sinners.” Moving on …
2. Stay focused on the core mission. The work at hand, that’s the reason we’re here.
3. It’s not about you. It’s not about you, either. Don’t cling to things as “yours.” Be willing to share. Collegiality and growth. For example, over the years, I got used to thinking of Living History as kind of my thing. Nope. It’s actually a Covenant thing. It was here before me and will be here after me. And now, Sally has taken it to a whole new level. Last year over Zoom, she turned it into a rocking radio show. I still chuckle when I think about how great it went. This year, she has been planning for months to present it in an outdoor venue — an idea that’s been tossed about for years. This year, she’s making it a reality. Who benefits from this upgrade? Everyone.
4. Go with your strengths. Each person has different strengths. Do what works for each of you.
5. Know thyself. Be yourself. Don’t try to be each other.
6. Be willing to give up. Be willing to fight. One August afternoon – on my 25th wedding anniversary to be exact – we were working on curriculum design as part of our pre-planning for the year. I had a date night on my calendar, and wanted to leave on time. But Sally was committed to finishing the good work we’d started, and asked me to account for everything I’d proposed. “Why this? Why that?” She pushed me to explain. To defend my opinions. And yes, I even had to sacrifice a few of my super-long-and-wordy-poetic sentences! (She’s been willing to be flexible, too, to be clear.) Time and again, we have realized that compromise is good.
7. Pray together. Oftentimes we have so much to do, we know we must stop and pray first. There’s just too much at stake not to do so.
8. Laugh together. Laugh often. Enough said.
9. Let the other shine. Stand back and clap. We have been given different gifts, and that makes our team stronger.
10. Enjoy the journey and celebrate the victories. When a goal has been reached, celebrate! After the year is over, the two of us clean out our classrooms while we enjoy an 80s-themed dance party. Classic.
Year Six is going strong.
Do we ever clash or get irritated? Yes.
Do we work it out? Yes.
Do we ever yield to the other? All the time.
So, what’s the “perfect” teacher partnership? One that is NOT perfect. Instead it is true, real and ready to get to work.
Love. Pray. Share. It’s the best.
by Stephanie Boss, CCS Fifth Grade Teacher