Entering a new job is kind of like getting married and entering a new family without getting to really meet them before the wedding. You have made a commitment to a group of people who you don't really know yet. It is exciting and intimidating at the same time. You will be entering a group that has been working together, sometimes for years, and has established ways of doing things and relating to each other. You will be changing some of those dynamics regardless of what you do because, you are coming from a different background, you have different skills and different ways of approaching teaching.
You want to be able to have your voice heard without making people feel threatened and resistant to your ideas. You also have to figure out what your new job entails so you need allies who can explain the systems and routines to you. You need someone to help you out when you don't know where to go or what to do once you get there. So, how do you make sure you get the help you need without exasperating your new coworkers? How to you make sure your ideas get the attention they deserve without angering anyone? These two things can be accomplished by always thinking about two things: be appreciative and contribute.
By be appreciative, I mean recognize all of the hard work and thinking that went into creating the program the way it is today. It may not be perfect, in fact it may be profoundly flawed from your point of view, but it didn’t come out of nowhere, someone worked hard on creating the curriculum, putting together teaching materials, and evaluating student outcomes. Recognizing that hard work vocally to your coworkers can go a really long way towards establishing good relationships with them.
Acknowledge that your coworkers are also professionals who have experience and training, even if you don’t understand why they do things the way they do. They probably have some very good reasons for doing it that way. Go into conversations with your coworkers with the idea that they can teach you many things and you want to learn them. If you are curious and open, most people will be eager to fill you in on what they are doing, how they are doing it and why they do it that way.
Even if you totally disagree with everything they are doing and saying, you can still learn a lot from those conversations. I think that many times I learn even more from people I totally disagree with than from people I agree with because they give me a very different perspective. Another wonderful thing about talking to people who have totally different ideas is it makes you really think about what you believe to be true and why you believe it. In having to articulate your position it makes you question your beliefs and either come up with solid reasons for thinking the way you do or if you can’t, it might be time to expand or change your opinions so that you can defend them.
If you do happen to have similar ideas to some of your coworkers, it can be great to collaborate on projects and find out what they know that you don’t know. Either way, every single person in your new environment has something to offer you that you can learn from if you let them. It might not be what you thought you would learn, and that might be great thing.
Being appreciative will take you a long way but if all you ever do is appreciate, people will soon start to feel like you are mooching off of them. You also need to contribute. Contributing can be tricky, people can feel threatened by change.
Offer to add to your new program, not to tear down what already exists. When you enter a new position, it is tempting to think that what they are doing is totally inferior to what you were comfortable with at your old job; that they should suddenly stop doing things their way and start doing things your way. Your opinion of the value of what is being done at this new job may or may not be accurate but it doesn’t really matter because, as the newcomer, the best way to change things is not by tearing things down but rather by contributing your ideas, materials, units or whatever else you are bringing with you.
People will be a lot more receptive to your ideas if you practice the first point of appreciating what they are doing and offering up your ideas as an enhancement rather than a replacement. Even the most open-minded friendly coworker is going to get frustrated with you if you walk in and instantly start trying to control them.
If you are entering a new job this year, I hope it is a wonderful experience. I love the process of getting to know different programs, different ways of doing things and different teaching philosophies. Every job I have ever had has taught me something that I can take with me into the next job. This has made me much more open to new ideas because I realize that no matter how much I have learned about teaching, there is so much I have yet to learn. This is what makes teaching exciting, I am never finished becoming better at it.
Are you entering a new job this year? Tell me about it in the comments. What are you excited about? What are you worried about?
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