Authentic and Empowering Relationships are Essential to Teaching and Leadership
November 7, 2019
“Our founding year was difficult,” shared Robert Marshall, founding principal at Vanguard Collegiate of Indianapolis, “and there was one person who almost worked as late as me—Alyssa. Working on her craft, tweaking lessons, taking feedback exceptionally well. Her strong classroom management clears the path for strong academic gains, and her tremendous disposition mellows out her classes. Her TFA training really contributed to her moving through. Also, she’s not afraid to ask for help. For some of us, that’s huge.”
“I plan on being a doctor, but I love [this class],” says student Davion about the social studies class that Alyssa teaches. “I get to learn about the past and our culture. Ms. McIntyre is the best. She’s kind and caring and helps me learn.”
When looking back to my senior year of college and while making my decision to be a part of something bigger than myself, I didn’t imagine that I would be surrounded by people who uplift each other as well as empower each other to care and do what’s best for our students, school, and overall community.
This was basically what my first year of teaching was centered around----authentic and empowering relationships. I was a founding teacher at a first year school where the majority of the staff and students are people of color. While I had my fair share of tears, heartaches, and stress, foundational relationships were formed that made me into the teacher and person that I have grown into today.
While professional development and college courses were key factors in my growth and skills, no amount of scholarly articles and books could fully prepare for my experience as a teacher serving in an underprivileged community. What was an even greater factor was the guidance of others and their experiences. My biggest teachers have been people who have not only shared with me their best instructional practices but what they have been through, where they come from, and how this has brought them to this work.
I heard plenty of times “teaching can be lonely” or “don’t put yourself on an island.” I did not understand what that actually meant until I found myself doing just that at Institute. After the long days, I would go in my room for the rest of the evening, order delivery, and just grade and plan for the next day. This made my experience very lonely, isolating myself from the amazing people I could have been learning from and collaborating with. I told myself when I got back to Indianapolis that it would be different. I would take the extra mile to build relationships.
Building relationships with my colleagues and administration early on only helped me with my transition to a new state as well as my first year of teaching. For example, I asked for a colleague to sit in on one of my classes and for me to sit in on their classes. This helped me as a first-year teacher to learn different techniques and strategies for class management. Other teachers in my school were also there for resources I needed, or to tell me what the best restaurants in Indianapolis were.
These relationships gave me the confidence I needed to take a leadership role in my school in only my first year. My administration trusted me with planning field trips, creating a girls’ empowerment club at my school, as well as creating the first Black History Month program. With my team’s trust and faith in me, I also felt confident to take the steps needed to build relationships with my students. A big focus at my school were to be role models for our students. How we interacted with each other as a staff was the model for how we wanted our students to interact with each other.
“Building relationships with my colleagues and administration early on only helped me with my transition to a new state as well as my first year of teaching. ”
At the beginning of the year I really struggled with students taking me seriously as their teacher. I would give them clear instructions and tell them my expectations. However, I was not always consistent with making sure my students were following those expectations. I learned early on within the year how important consistency is within a classroom. I also learned that my students liked consistency and responded well to it. When I set my expectations and always made sure my students followed through, my classroom started to operate much smoother.
My students began to do better out of respect for me. They knew that I respected them as individuals and they reciprocated that same respect to me. Consistency was not only important for setting my expectations and procedures in my classroom but also important in my relationships with my students. I tried my best to follow up with students as much as possible. If I saw a student was having a bad day or may have received a consequence in my class, I would make sure that I had a conversation with them later that day. It showed them that their wellbeing and feelings were more important than any consequence I had to give them. I have learned that checking in on the people you care about as much as possible is important in maintaining relationships.
I encourage all teachers to prioritize building relationships. I’m thankful TFA has many different opportunities for corps members to establish them; I have the chance to reach out to my coach, my fellow corps members, or even the previous corps. One of the best feelings I have had this past year was talking with people who have gone through the same experience as me. It gave me the reassurance and confidence I needed to become a better leader for my students.