How Can Teachers Find Connection and Avoid Isolation?
Have you ever felt lonely in a room full of people? For teachers, this can be a daily occurrence. Despite the fact we spend our workdays surrounded by students in our classroom and work in schools with other teachers and staff, teachers can still feel very isolated.
Teachers spend the day working in individual classrooms, often with the door closed to avoid disruptions or interference. We work alone with individual student groups and can have little available time to talk with our colleagues about our teaching practice. While some may feel a sense of autonomy in this setup, others find it very isolating.
Researchers Seyyed Ali Ostovar-Nameghi & Mohsen Sheikhahmadi (2016) found that “isolation is likely to result in burnout and feelings of extreme helplessness.” When feeling the effects of burnout, a teacher may withdraw and feel less job fulfillment. This greatly affects our attitude about our job which bleeds over into the classroom, affecting the learning environment for students. This has even led to a rise in teacher attrition rates over the past decade (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).
So when teachers are experiencing this, how do we break out of it? How do we find connections with other adults and avoid feelings of isolation?
While teaching can often feel like an individual sport, it should be a team adventure. As Johnson, Reinhorn, & Simon (2016) explained “as [teachers] collaborate, teachers with different skills, areas of expertise, and levels of experience may find that teams not only support them in curriculum development, lesson planning, and pedagogy, while also offering professional relationships that sustain them and improve the instructional capacity and professional culture in their school”. As teachers, we should look for opportunities to work together on lesson plans, give feedback and ask questions. We should keep our doors open, literally or metaphorically, inviting other teachers to visit our classrooms and find moments to visit other teachers’ classrooms. We should ask each other for help and ideas on problems we’re struggling with and share successes we’ve had in our classrooms.
Although these things are not always easy to accomplish—we have strict schedules, 100 kids to deal with, and a limited amount of resources—there is always a way. When physical proximity, time, and scheduling prohibit us from doing these things the traditional way, sharing video and making virtual visits can be a great way to collaborate and keep ourselves in touch with other adults and professionals.
“Exemplary teachers search out those who can give feedback that is critical to their development. They do not shy away from feedback that may be contradictory to what they believe. They take in numerous responses, both qualitative and quantitative data, in order to grow and enhance their teaching practices.”Jon Konen (2018)
ACTIVELY SEEK CONNECTION
Connecting with other teachers can require actively watching for opportunities. Damon Weinhold, a teacher who shared his experiences of building a network of professional support said, “I think educators who succeed and stick out actually actively recruit these professional circles.” Teachers can make deliberate choices to create moments to connect. Eating lunch outside of the classroom can provide time to see other colleagues. Check in with your colleagues and share how the day is going. Moving conversations beyond small talk and discussing subjects of great importance opens up opportunities to connect and support one another. Attending extracurricular activities, like school plays or the big game, can offer a chance to see other adults while also supporting students. Even continuing education could be planned with colleagues. Make connecting with others an intentional part of your day—you deserve it!
“The fundamental nature of reality is relationships, not things”Senge et al. (2012)
Humans have a deep need to connect with other humans, and a lack of connection has a negative impact. Have you experienced professional isolation? What ways have you found to overcome it and create connections with others?