Whether you’re a new teacher, a veteran, or somewhere in between, navigating the ins and outs of education can be tricky. Learning how to advocate for yourself in your job is so important to your success and your well-being.
Here are three strategies that can help.
Get to Know People First before Suggesting New Ideas
New teachers have lots of great ideas and the energy to put those ideas into action. Their enthusiasm can encourage other educators to be more experimental with their educational practices and, provided they’re willing, break them out of old habits. But new ideas can also be met with pushback, especially from established teachers who have set routines and refined their practice over many years.
One thing I wish I’d known when I first started teaching is to take the time to get to know people before advocating for my own ideas. Whether it’s stopping by someone’s classroom/office, sending emails, or joining committees, building connections up front makes your voice more powerful, which helps you get your ideas heard and implemented more easily.
It’s not just new teachers who can benefit—veteran teachers can also learn something from every single person in your school.
So, try to eat in the staff room. Reach out to one or two new people each week. Stop by their classrooms or workspace just to say, “Hi” regularly. Send them an email or write a short note to let them know you appreciate them or that you learned something from them. Find out what kind of candy they like and what they do for fun. This will not only help your colleagues feel more connected to you, but it will also make them feel valued—a sentiment that’s unfortunately not as prevalent in this profession as it should be.
Having a couple days a week where you connect with your peers establishes you as part of the community, and you can get feedback and guidance when you need it. You can find out if your new idea, approach, or solution has been tried before and if it was effective. Once you’ve built solid relationships, your colleagues will be more likely to help you modify or enhance your ideas because they have background knowledge you may lack. This also helps you learn who can help you get stuff done. It’s hard to make big changes alone, and teaching in a vacuum isn't good for you or your kiddos.
Define a Niche for Yourself
It’s common for educators to see new teachers as someone who they can pull into everything. That’s why it’s important to set healthy work boundaries, especially if you have a hard time saying no to people.
To make sure you’re not stretching yourself too thin, try defining a niche for yourself based on your area of expertise. Are you the tech go-to person? A member of the leadership team? A natural for the social committee? Carving out a place for yourself ingrains you into your school’s culture while setting realistic boundaries. It gives you a valid reason to push back: “I’ve already taken on a lot, so I can’t take on more.” Don’t overextend yourself—people will understand.
Set Boundaries with Your Students’ Caregivers
Parents and caregivers can be the toughest part of this job, so you want to establish relationships with caregivers right away to make sure they know and respect your role and boundaries. One thing that can help is making actual phone calls—not just emailing—and talking in person.
Also, being present for drop-off and pick-up in elementary school is huge. You can learn a ton about your students and their families. It also gives you a presence with those caregivers. They see you every day, so when an issue comes up with their kid, or even if that kid is having an awesome day, you can tell their caregiver about it. “Sophia had a bit of a rough day, but we’re going to start fresh tomorrow.” Or, “Rashad had an amazing day. I’m so proud of him.” When you see someone regularly, you build a rapport with them, you connect with them as a human, and they connect with you, which ultimately allows you to be a better teacher.
To find out more about advocating for yourself, check out this episode of the Extraordinary Educators™ Podcast.