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Admin-Staff Bonding

Collin Lawrence is a former New York City teacher who is recounting his four years working at a Brooklyn high school. Read Collin’s previous posts.

One of my personal goals for the 2009-2010 school year was to help usher in better administrator-staff relations. I was committed to pushing the administration to do more to support teachers, and believed I could be a diplomatic intermediary. In my position as 10th-grade team leader, I had the ear of the administration. As a fourth-year veteran teacher, I had the stature to speak for the teachers. In our weekly “cabinet” meeting (a meeting of the four grade-level team leaders, the principal, and the two assistant principals) I listened more than I spoke, but when I did voice my opinion I did so with conviction yet couched in non-threatening language.

I remember that at one cabinet meeting, I butted heads with the principal over the issue of teacher complaining. I don’t remember the specific argument, but I stayed after the meeting to let him know that I didn’t mean anything personal by my comments and was just trying to be honest. He said he understood. I then talked about the need for teachers to have a constructive way to vent their frustrations. And he said, perhaps jokingly, that the solution to this was called beer. I told him that teachers already used this method of catharsis, but suggested that that the administration and staff have a happy hour together. I said that it might help ease tensions and make everyone feel more comfortable with each other.

So he took me up on the idea. He told me that if I organized it, he would buy everyone a drink.

I did so, and we all went out to a local bar one Friday afternoon in early November. Not everyone made it, but most people did. The teachers showed up first, and took over a corner of the bar. The three administrators showed up a little while later, and the principal did indeed buy everyone drinks. The assistant principals even bought seconds for those who wanted it. During that time, we actually didn’t talk about school that much but rather got to know one another better on a personal level. I traded wedding stories with the principal and another teacher, and chatted with one of the APs about international travel.

Two of the teachers provided comic relief by having a battle to impersonate each one of us.  The Spanish teacher did a great impersonation of me, pounding her fist into her other hand and saying, “You guys, this is going to be on the regents! You have to study this!” Everyone had a good laugh at my expense.

Inspired by observing these teachers’ comedic skill, the principal floated the idea of having a staff talent show during our annual Christmas party. For a while, we batted around suggestions about what to do for this occasion.

The admin didn’t stay too long, but seemed genuinely happy as they the excused themselves to go. I recall that the principal even gave a short toast before he left, and thanked the teachers for our hard work and spoke of a promise for more events like this one in the future as we celebrated shared success.

After the administrators had left, I clinked my glass with the teacher who led the ninth-grade team. She had also helped to promote a more positive tone among staff that year, and we congratulated one another on having seemingly achieved it. After the tumult of the last few years, this moment represented a high point for us.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.