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  • Writer's pictureBeccy Fox

Relationships Matter

I must say that the best moment of this academic year was the two weeks me and my family spent in quarantine on arrival in Bangkok. We were lucky, and had a one bedroom apartment with a balcony, so space wasn’t really an issue. We spent the days reconnecting as a family over jigsaw puzzles, games, Lego and cheesy sitcoms. I had time for reading, yoga and NOT ONCE did I get asked “what’s for dinner?”

And then we started school. Online. Until late October.

As we know, leadership 101 states that one of the first tasks in any new job is to build relationships with your new colleagues. Building relationships online is so very different to doing this face to face, and I will admit I found it very challenging. I am not a luddite, but I am also not a digital native. My son likes to call me a “Boomer” (I am actually Gen X). I am much better face to face than online. I jokingly said that I have never been on Tinder, but as James Joyce said: never a truer word etc. It was extremely challenging to really get to know my colleagues via a screen. It almost felt impossible.

In addition to my own digital limitations, this academic year has been one of the most challenging for all educators I know. Starting the year online was tough for everyone, and it certainly wasn't sunshine and roses for my new colleagues. Each one of us has our own backstory, and you never know what people are going through. Being new at the school, I certainly didn't know. I did not know the stories or characters of my colleagues who may have been feeling overwhelmed, anxious or just plain fed up with the whole situation. In “normal” times, starting a new job is full of excitement and positive anticipation. Online in covid times, it was very, very different. I focussed on the light at the end of the tunnel, on the day I could finally go onto the school campus and meet my colleagues.

That day finally came in late October. Finally I could meet my coworkers. Initially, due to the resticting covid "bubbles" that were in place, I could only focus on getting to know some of my non-teaching colleagues. As soon as I was allowed, I started going into classrooms. Visiting classrooms, but not when the teachers were teaching, when there were no students in the room. This way I could build connections, build positive relationships. I did not want to ask my colleagues about their teaching, but about themselves, how they are doing, finding out who they are.

One of my favouirte sketchnotes, by Tanmay Viora, illustrates the importance of “connect first” and my experiences this year really have illustrated for me how crucial building relationships is for new leaders, before anything else. Whether starting a new position in the middle of a global pandemic, or in more "normal" times, we need to get to know our new colleagues, and let them get to know us. We need to take the time to build trusting relationships by wandering through the school, being present and stopping to have a chat. It is not a waste of our time, it is cruicial. Never underestimate the power of a good chat. As the great @DrBradJohnson says "small talk builds greater trust."


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