Being an educator is a significant position of trust. Whether you are a new educator or a veteran, there are key principles to follow to develop a sterling reputation and protect your career.
I have walked in your shoes as a full-time classroom teacher! I know that teachers are the “one lever” that society can lean on again and again to try to fix many of society’s problems, which creates a lot of pressure and expectations. I offer these strategies with your own well-being and career development in mind, as well as creating a safe and supportive school environment.
Communication * Professionalism * Safety * Kindness * Fairness * Relationships * Support
1. Keep current with communications, especially with parents and students. Respond to emails, voice mails, and papers left in your school mailbox daily. As a backstop, make sure you look through to entire pile of papers on your desk (or digital equivalent) at the end of each week. At least take a look at every document to make sure you did not overlook something that needs your attention right now.
2. Minimize school gossip. Pay attention to what is going on in your school with eyes and ears open, but be very mindful of what you say to others. Don’t contribute to a negative, gossipy, or bullying work environment.
Professionalism & Safety
3. Always maintain an adult leadership role when you are with your students. You are not your students’ “buddy.” You can develop a warm and kind relationship with them while staying clearly within the bounds of adult leadership, including during extra-curriculars, school trips, and other out-of-classroom activities. This protects your reputation and sets a gold standard for teacher professionalism in your school.
4. Avoid engaging in any behavior that could be construed as “grooming behavior” with students. Grooming behavior itself should be against the rules and reportable to school leadership. Grooming behavior includes lavishing attention on a student or students such as gift-giving, inappropriate tickling or physical affection, “special” favors, trips, or coaching outside an approved setting; rule-breaking and boundary-pushing behavior by adults, including “acting like a big kid;” asking students to keep anything secret, private communications through texting or any social media channel, or any prohibited relationships outside of school. We explore this issue in detail in our Full Circle Safety. Some of these behaviors may be innocent, but are too often are used by abusers to lower boundaries and gain trust and facilitate abuse.
5. Maintain “two-deep leadership” in all school situations, as much as possible. This means that two adults are in charge of a group of students, unless there is an unexpected emergency.
If you need to have one-on-one tutoring or discussion with a student, do it in a place that is observable and interruptible, such as a library, outside bench, or public conference room, not a private office.
6. Assess your work environment. If your current work setup requires you to be one-on-one with students in a private situation, talk with school leadership about ways to change the setting so that it is not private, such as installing a tall narrow glass window in an office door. I know this can be inconvenient, but Kidpower teaches us that “safety is more important than inconvenience, embarrassment or offense—yours or anyone else’s!”
Kindness & Fairness
7. Treat everyone fairly. Being a fair and even-handed teacher is one of the most important qualities you can cultivate. I recommending doing a deep dive exploration (or at least a Google search) into equanimity. Outstanding teachers develop this quality of “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.”
8. Try to see the best in everyone, including the students you don’t particularly like! Let’s be honest, we all have students that irritate us, who may even “push our buttons.” This is only human. However, your opinion of them matters a lot your students—even if they act like they don’t care, and even if they act like they don’t like you. Find the good in what they are doing whenever you can.
9. Learn about trauma-informed practices. We now know enough about childhood trauma, thanks to the 30-year long ACEs study, to know that preventing and minimizing childhood trauma is some of the most important work we can do to promote lifelong health and safety.
Relationships & Support, for You!
10. Maintain a personal life outside school. I know that being an educator can be all-consuming, from a 6 am commute, to midnight prep sessions, to after-school activities, to chaperoning a dance on Saturday night. Despite this, and in some ways because of this, it is really important that you maintain a personal life outside of your teacher role. Your personal champions can be family, friends, support people who give you an opportunity to shed your teacher persona, let loose, complain and let off steam. This is essential for you as a person, and for your professional life as well, because you will maintain an objective outside perspective beyond the campus gate.
Dr. Amy Tiemann is a best-selling author and experienced educator who has taught personal safety and abuse-prevention skills for more than 25 years. Her specialty is developing adult leadership for child safety, working with parents, schools, and other youth-serving organizations. She works as an independent expert and as a Kidpower International Senior Program Leader.
Dr. Tiemann is the co-creator of Full Circle Safety training for K-12 Educators, teaching educators how to recognize, respond to, and report Child Sexual Abuse and Human Trafficking concerns. Full Circle Safety includes Kidpower skills that can be taught to children, and adapted for all ages and abilities. This training fulfills many state requirements for K-12 educators, including North Carolina’s SB199, and Erin’s Law. Available now through the Kidpower Online Learning Center.
Schedule a 20-minute consultation with Dr. Tiemann by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org