Building relationships is important in all facets of life, and work-team relationships are no different! These are the people you see and work closely with, day in and day out. During the week, you spend more waking hours at work than you probably do at home. Not only is it important to just “get along” with them, but when you can really grow close as a team, it makes your job that much more enjoyable. Having at least 1 or 2 close friends at work that you can go to to vent, laugh, cry, etc… in my experience, is priceless.
I just started a new job last summer and had to start all over again at ground zero in building my work-team relationships after being at my previous job for 5 years. That being said, I have had wonderful work team relationships in both places I’ve been, so I want to share with you some things I think have made it work as well as it has (and a huge thank you to my work friends who helped me brainstorm ideas for this post!).
I’m writing about building relationships both from the perspective of being a fellow team member on the therapist/teacher team, and also from the perspective of building a relationship with someone you are supervising. This is a long post, but stay with me. I have some valuable input for you!
Be open-minded and don’t take offense. I just had this chat last week with the BCBA I work with. No one on our team gets offended if she (or anyone else) asks if we need help or steps in when a kid’s meltdown is escalating and she/they have a strategy to try. The reverse applies, too- she has told me multiple times that if I want her to be using a different communication method/strategy with a kid, to please tell her and she will not be offended. I think a big part of being on a successful team is knowing that you are knowledgeable in your specific area, but that because our professions all overlap in so many ways, we all have things we can learn from each other. As long as no one oversteps boundaries (e.g. making decisions about another professional’s area without consulting them), it can be a wonderful learning experience. I am always eager to learn more behavior strategies from our BCBA and more about sensory processing from our OTs. Keep an open mind. You might just learn something that completely changes the way you view a particular student or situation!
Pitch in. The other day at work, during my therapy time with one of our kids being potty trained, there was a “misfire” all over the bathroom. One of my team members got me some towels while another one wiped up the floor, while I was cleaning up the kiddo and getting him changed. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated the help! At my last job, there were a few times where I helped with administering language-based tasks of G-3 testing (our PreK testing in the school district that happened 3x a year) for kids on my caseload if the teacher was getting really backlogged. My therapy schedule was shot during testing week, anyway– pitching in a few minutes here and there doesn’t take a ton of effort, and lets your team members know you’re a team player. A small gesture often times goes a long way!
Co-teach! I know this is a lot easier in the early childhood setting, but I always LOVED doing in-class services in our preschool classrooms. It gives the teachers a chance to see what you do, what you’re working on, cuing strategies you use, etc… so they can carry out the same things throughout the rest of our students’ days. The early childhood teachers I worked with loved having SLPs and OTs come in and do a small group rotation. The reverse is true, too– I would see an activity the teacher was doing and would be inspired in how I could spin it into a language activity! Buy-in is way higher if the teachers can SEE what you’re doing and see it implemented successfully!
If you’re in an elementary school setting where in-class lessons are a little trickier, and the buy-in is much lower.. pick 1 teacher you get along with who is open to you coming into their classroom. Start with that one classroom, and when things go well, inevitably they’ll tell their other grade-level teammates, and they’ll start to get interested, which may open up doors for you to work with other classroom teachers, too!
Celebrate! Celebrate the funny stories and little successes with your team members. Even if you have nothing else in common, you have your students in common, and that is something you can bond over. We all need encouragement to keep going sometimes– sharing a breakthrough is sometimes the confirmation that “I AM doing it right and we ARE making progress!” Sharing successes also allows your teammates to see your passion for the kids you are working with! Additionally, a funny story to make your teammates laugh is sometimes just what they need after a stressful morning/day!
Take an interest in their lives. Ask about how their weekends went when you see them on Monday. If they mention their significant other, ask how long they’ve been dating/married. Ask how they met. Ask about their kids. They have a dog and you’re a dog lover, too? Share a funny story about your dog! They did something really cool over the weekend that you love to do or have been dying to try, too? Share that! Take an interest in their lives and make connections. If there’s really no common ground you can talk about… See “Celebrate” above 😉
Understand that each role on the team has their own set of stressors. Maybe you’re stressed because you have 8 IEP meetings next week and you’re the case manager for 5 of them. Maybe your OT is stressed because all of a sudden there’s 10 new kids in K-5 who need sensory supports and she has to find a time to get in and observe them. Maybe one of the ECSE teachers is stressed because she just got 2 new kids added to her already-too-full classroom. Maybe your PT who is only there once a week found out that an IEP meeting was rescheduled for that same day and the case manager forgot to tell her. Everyone is stressed. Respect that. It is never okay to play the “one-up” game and make others feel like their stressors aren’t as valid as yours.
From a supervisory/assistant relationship standpoint…
When I had my school job, I had my own para for the last 3 out of 5 years. We had a wonderful relationship and by the end of my time there, I (only half)-jokingly referred to her as my life coach because I frequently asked for her input/advice. I told her I was writing this post, and asked her what she felt like made our kind of supervisory/assistant relationship work as well as it did. Here’s what she said:
1. Respect: “You always acknowledged me (and others) and never made us feel inferior for having a different job title.” It’s not hard to greet people and respond when they greet you. Not everyone at my last job did that, but it’s something SO simple and makes a world of difference. When people feel acknowledged and welcomed, they’re happier and perform better at their jobs.
2. “You gave me areas of responsibility so I could keep busy, grow in ability, and feel accomplished. That made me better and made me more valuable to the group as a whole.” Play to your assistant’s strengths and interests. My para became excellent at running small group rotations in the classrooms. She learned how to adapt my activities to different levels of kids and could run these without needing much guidance from me. This was a win for me, too, because I often used this time to pull kids for IEP/eval data, or to sit down and work on reports for a little bit. Sometimes, we would both come in if a classroom had a kid that needed more support during a group or a rotation in general that needed two sets of hands to keep things running smoothly. I could let her run it while I focused more on specific kids.
My para was also really great with the language kids, too, and I felt like that was her strength more than articulation. Articulation therapy was also less of an interest to her, so when I scheduled her with kids, I tried to have her seeing the language kids more than articulation kids. Our elementary SLP saw the opposite in her para- she thought articulation was a great strength for her para, so her para saw a lot of artic kids. Figure out a way to use their strengths to your (and the kids’!) advantage!
3. “You always complimented when you saw good methods and teaching, but took in stride things that didn’t work by trying something else. It was never a big deal.” Positive feedback is so important! Even if you know you’re doing a good job, it’s always nice to hear it from someone else, too. When you’re supervising a para or SLPA, they need to know what they’re doing well (increased confidence = increased job performance, which benefits you and your students, too!) as well as ideas for strategies they might try to change things up next time if something didn’t go well. They’re not trained SLPs, and don’t have the same extensive background as us. We can’t expect them to just know how to do things. It’s our responsibility to give feedback and gradually shape them into effective therapy providers under our supervision.
4. “You asked for my input and you always included everyone when the breakthroughs happened so we could celebrate!” I feel like part of why my para enjoyed her job was because I frequently shared new ideas I was excited to try and shared mini milestones of success. Your passion for your career is contagious and rubs off on people. Your assistant is doing therapy, too– asking for their input and including him/her in the excitement shows them you value them and their efforts, as well.
Whew! Are you still with me? I know that was a long one. But, building relationships at work is so, so, SO important in job satisfaction, and I hope you felt like these tips were useful. For other bloggers’ tips on building relationships at work, check out the link-up below!