Five ways to frame care and appreciation in your professional partnership.
How do you like to receive care? What makes you feel appreciated in a partnership? When you want to show appreciation for someone, how do you communicate that?
These questions are often posed in the context of romantic relationships, but they are just as important to ask in the context of our working relationships with our teaching colleagues. Investigating the ways in which we like to receive and express support in a relationship can be especially valuable in the context of co-teaching partnerships, as humorous as that may sound.
Teachers navigate high expectations and, often, high-stress situations on a daily basis. We support one another, forming community and connections through meaningful relationships. With that said, we all have different preferences and needs when it comes to how.
In a romantic context, a common way to explore these preferences is the theory of five love languages, a concept proposed in Chapman's book The 5 Love Languages (1992). Chapman researched patterns in couples he was counseling and realized that many couple’s points of contention derived from a fundamental misunderstanding of each other’s needs: namely, how to receive and express affection. And so, he proposed the idea of five different love languages, paraphrased briefly below:
Caring for your co-teacher
One pathway to learn how to better support your co-teacher is to consider each other’s “love languages” in a school context. Let’s look at some examples of what these five love languages might look like in a co-teaching relationship:
Words of affirmation: After a lesson, complimenting something that your co-teacher did particularly well, like asking thought-provoking questions of students or circulating the classroom consistently. These could be verbal or written comments that express your gratitude or valuing of your colleague.
Quality time: During co-planning meetings, focusing only on each other and the agreed-upon task at hand; not opening or discussing emails, text messages, calendars, or other lists of tasks that must be completed at a later point (unless there is an emergency). This is always a good norm, but can be especially valuable to those who appreciate “quality time” as their language of appreciation.
Physical touch: Agreeing upon a level of comfort with physical contact, like high-fives, fist-bumps or supportive hugs. I have met teachers who value hugs after especially long days, but I have also met teachers who don’t want any physical contact in a professional setting; everyone is different, and it’s important to respect individuals’ boundaries when considering this love language in a teaching context.
Acts of service: Offering some additional support to complete necessary tasks, especially when we feel like with have the bandwidth and motivation to do so. This might look like offering to cover a colleague’s lunch duty or doing just a little bit of extra lesson planning to remove it from our co-teachers to-do list.
Receiving gifts: As teachers, we don’t often have a lot of disposable income for gifts, nor should we feel expected to buy our colleagues gifts. With that said, I’ve given and received gifts from my colleagues in the form of borrowed books, shared classroom resources, and small pieces of favorite candy — often inexpensive or free gifts that communicate thoughtfulness and general support.
Chapman makes the point that love languages, once identified, do not necessitate that we buy gifts every day or provide endless amounts of quality time. Life happens, relationships change, and we often appreciate more than one of these love languages in our relationships. The same reminders ring true for considering languages of appreciation in teaching partnerships.
I hope that this article serves as a silly starter to a conversation with your co-teacher about what their “language” of appreciation might be this year. Brainstorm together what each of these languages might look like in your particular co-teaching relationship and school context.
There’s no need for us to “love” our colleagues, but we can certainly benefit from developing supportive relationships within our professional learning communities. Let’s give and receive a little more appreciation this school year.