By Rob Mangel

Anyone who has walked into a school building knows that it brims with energy. Throughout the day, students move through the hallways between classes as school staff work to facilitate learning and maintain the emotional and social well-being of students. While the symphony of a school is apparent to anyone who might step into a school building, what is not as obvious is the incredible isolation that can be felt as well.

One of the things that educator preparation programs and new staff orientations might not prepare school staff for is the tremendous feeling of loneliness that working in education can bring. Many folks who work outside education do not understand what we do and are not fully able to engage with us about our work. Additionally, once we are in school buildings, many of us are so overwhelmed with the day-to-day work that we are not necessarily able to connect with each other in meaningful ways.

The great irony of this reality is that in order to thrive as school staff and to best meet our students’ needs, we need each other. Your local association can offer wonderful resources to do just that. However as an early career NJEA members, and sometimes the only new staff member in your building, finding folks in similar circumstances can prove difficult. The NJEA Early Career Network has worked over the past few years to bring early career NJEA members together to meet this need.

Building a community is no easy task under the best of conditions. It requires groups of people to identify goals, set norms and expectations, and then regularly work collaboratively to build toward those goals. This is no straightforward endeavor. However, what is great about working in education is that we become adept at building communities!

Classroom teachers and educational support professionals alike all have an active hand in building a community of learners daily. We set expectations and goals for our students. The stability that these expectations provide is integral to student success both in and out of the classroom. In addition to stability, we also build community with our students through the sharing of experiences and ideas. We allow our students to share their stories with us, and we share with them. This exchange helps to build trust in our buildings, and our students can come to rely on these spaces for support.

Nearly every day we extend community to our students, but doing it for ourselves is another thing entirely. At the end of a school day, it is sometimes difficult to find the energy to connect with each other. But it is important that we find each other and help each other.

By connecting with others, we can fight against the exhaustion and burnout we may feel. Exhaustion among all school staff is common, but ask any veteran staff member and they’ll tell you that their first few years were especially difficult and exhausting. The potential for burnout among early career staff members is particularly acute. We can and should combat it together.

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant makes this point on his podcast WorkLife: “I found…that when people feel ineffective, helping others buffers against burnout. It makes them feel competent, which leaves them energized rather than exhausted.” When we find and help each other by building communities, we also help ourselves. We feel more connected to our students, our colleagues, and our work if we collaborate and build together.

Building connections in your building is integral to thriving as a professional. As mentioned in last month’s early career column, one of our “whys” is to welcome you into the profession and give you a space to collaborate and learn from each other. As we move deeper into the school year and we feel more burnt out, it becomes increasingly important that we find a community that gives us the meaning and the connection that will help us move through the remainder of the year.

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