Toxic Environments

I hear from a lot of people that they love to work with children and to teacher but that they are increasingly wanting to leave teaching because of the politics/environment/toxic working relationships/pressures. It was certainly something that played into my decision to step away from working full time in one school and to start my business. However, it would be a shame if all the amazing teachers out there felt they had to leave a profession they love due to a negative working environment.

Here are some tips for trying to manage negative workplace relationships:

  • Create clear boundaries for your workplace relationships

If you are feeling uncomfortable around someone the chance are they’ve either cross a boundary with you, you’ve observed them cross a boundary with someone else or you sense that there is that potential. Think clearly about how it is you want to be treated by colleagues, you don’t need to write it down but have it clear in your mind. You then need to make this clear and there are several ways to do this:

  1. Model the behaviour you want to see in the way others interact with you. Just in the same way you would with the children. This can be difficult because the way we want to be treated by some colleagues is different to others and different to how we treat or expect friends to treat us. It sometimes means we have to have a work persona.
  2. Tell people, this can be tricky which is why I mentioned modelling first. Firstly you can feel awkward having these types of conversations and it needs to be done with tact in order to avoid upsetting or offending people. It can also be hard to have a private and personal conversation with someone that you don’t necessarily trust. In the last instance it may be worth informing another colleague or member of management that you need to have this conversation so that it doesn’t come back on you in a negative way.
  3. Stick to your boundaries if you have taken the time to model behaviour or talk to someone about how you want to be treated you need to stick to and continue to re-enforce these.
  • Get some distance

It’s always good to enjoy spending time with your colleagues in the staff room to make sure you’re aware of what is going on and to build necessary relationships, however it can also sometimes re-enforce negative feelings or opinions or sometimes just weigh you down with other peoples negative feelings about work. Try to find a balance, spend sometime interacting with colleagues at lunchtime e.g. 15 minutes of lunch or 2 lunchtimes a week the rest of the time spend outside of the environment (not in class eating your sandwich over your marking) leave the building go for a walk, drive around the block, sit on the bench opposite whatever works for you.

  • Vent away from work.

It’s really tempting to go to colleagues and vent to them when you’ve had a hard day for whatever reason, and this can be good to a certain extent but there can be 2 downsides: firstly you can feed into a toxic environment which encourages others to in turn vent on you thus creating a cycle. Secondly it can cause unprofessionalism to develop which can cause additional stress and problems for all involved. While it’s good to have a close teacher friend and to share experiences with those who know and understand the situation it’s worth saving these types of conversations for out of the building or with a friend or family member who has no connection with your workplace what so ever.


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