Relationships bind us as humans. They motivate us to be our best selves and often allow us to see even greater possibilities. Alone we may accomplish what we set out to do, but together we can accomplish even more. But educators are usually alone, teaching in a classroom with very few support systems in place. Becoming a teacher of children is a calling. It is all too often a job entailing intense daily work, from preparing lesson plans to instituting effective classroom management, while accounting for a community of diverse learners and staying informed about the latest in the field to inform one’s practice. These efforts often go unnoticed, and shows of gratitude may be rare. But if you are committed to answering this call, with the right supports and relationships in place, teachers can forge ahead with renewed energy. How do relationships ease the burden and make impossible-seeming tasks possible?
The pandemic created an urgent situation in the education community. Teachers and school administrators at all levels—from early childhood education to higher education—were called upon to develop new plans for educating their constituents. The evolving situation and undefined timeline were just some of the obstacles. It was a perfect storm for many in the educational field; however, when we lay the right groundwork for the transition to online learning, the process can potentially be seamless.
When both K–12 schools and higher education classrooms closed their doors, colleges and universities were faced with creating solutions for the completion of fieldwork such as student teaching, and we decided to forge ahead alongside the K–12 schools. The college’s student teachers continued to support their cooperating teachers in online learning, and this made all the difference. Classroom teachers were overwhelmed by the immediate transition to distance learning, and the previously in-person partnership evolved into an online educational support system, benefitting not only the student teachers, but also offering support to the classroom teachers and assistance for struggling students.
Student Teacher Providing Distance Learning Lesson on Transition Words, Danielle DelTorto, April 15, 2020. (Permission Granted)
More specifically, student teachers became a physical classroom support for the cooperating teachers, providing opportunities for one-on-one student assistance and various forms of cooperative teaching, from one teach/one support, to station teaching, parallel teaching, and even team teaching. The student teachers were also able to adapt to the use of technology for remote teaching, and use their skills in app use, educational gaming, web design, exposure to alternative virtual environments, breakout rooms, and asynchronous teaching. Because the cooperating teacher and student teacher relationship provided for a more even distribution of supports, the schools and school districts began inviting the student teachers to participate in professional development alongside the cooperating teachers. This helped foster a more qualified group of future teachers—and one school offered all six student teachers full-time jobs for the following year.
Although established relationships with neighborhood public and private schools were pivotal to our success during the pandemic, it was the problem-solving mentality, the willingness to collaborate on a daily basis, and the daily motivation to succeed for the sake of our students that developed from our internal relationships. Just like students need relationships to help them feel cared for, secure, and motivated to learn, K–12 teachers and higher education faculty also need relationships that offer care, security, and motivation to perform at their best (Leadbeater, 2008).
These relationships begin with a leader. Teachers need adept, versatile leaders who can respond to the needs of their team and give them a sense of security (The University of Warwick, n.d.). Leadership in creating authentic relationships builds participation and ultimately leads to success. How do we construct effective relationships and partnerships between K–12 schools and higher education, and how do we ultimately support each other? We need to work together to ensure effective teacher education and support for practicing teachers, while also ensuring that curricula are articulated. K–12 education and higher education share the same interests, but leaders must first reach out and articulate their mutual interests in growth, support, and further learning opportunities. A simple place to begin is through ongoing shared professional development and joint curricula writing.
Our responsibility in higher education and student teaching is to build interactions that recognize the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses of each partner. Successful K–12 partnerships with colleges and universities come from responding to the needs practicing teachers have in their specific classrooms and curricula, and the current mode of delivery (Tomanek et al., 2005). The pandemic showed that successful relationships can accomplish what might have seemed impossible.
It all comes down to one word: compassion. The last few difficult years have created more compassionate teachers and leaders because of their classroom experiences and personal struggles. We all have our days, but we may find ourselves reflecting on how we treat the teachers in our own lives and work environments. Ultimately, we should try to see things from all perspectives and do the right thing out of love. Isn’t that what it’s all about?By Malissa A. Scheuring Leipold
Dr. Scheuring Leipold is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Education Department at Iona College, New York. She teaches courses in educational philosophy, special education, and educational leadership. Her research focuses on effective leadership, policy analysis and implementation, and teacher motivation and job satisfaction.
Knickerbocker, L. (n.d.). Wearing three hats: Balancing life as a parent, teacher and employee during COVID-19. Retrieved from https://nyulangone.org/news/wearing-three-hats-balancing-life-parent-teacher-employee-during-covid-19
Leadbeater, C. (2008). It’s all about relationships. Educational Leadership, 66(1).
The University of Warwick. (n.d.). What makes a good leader? Chronicle of Higher Education.