What Makes A Partnership Work?

My teaching partner, Paula, and I have worked together for almost three years now. It’s easy to look at where we are at this point, and forget what it took to get to this special place. This year, I had the opportunity to be an NTIP Mentor, and I worked with many new kindergarten teachers, who are trying to establish connections with their teaching partners. Many people have asked me over the years how Paula and I got to the place where we are today. It didn’t happen magically. 🙂 Reflecting back this weekend, here are many things that we did to build our relationship over the years.

  • We connected before we met. When the principal, John, told me the name of my partner, I emailed her. I told her how excited I was to work with her, and I mentioned what I knew about the school and some of the staff there. I happened to know one of her previous teaching partners, so I included her name in the email. This gave us a connection. Paula wrote me back almost right away, and we were able to exchange emails before we arranged a time to meet. 
  • We got to know each other as people first. The first time that I met Paula was on a PA Day. It was our report card writing PA Day in June, and we met for lunch at Jack Astors. I knew the other kindergarten teacher at Rousseau, who also happened to be friends with Paula, so we arranged to all meet together. This was a great way to have some good food, good conversations, and find out a little bit more about each other. We talked about families and summer plans before we started planning for Kindergarten Orientation.
  • We watched and listened. As kindergarten educators, we know the value in observation, but observation is not just for kids. You can also observe adults. It’s through these observations that I learned …
  1. how Paula finds washing items in the sink to be calming,
  2. how she always sits down to connect with kids around the eating table when she returns from her break, so that she can also get a feel for the room,
  3. how she always has extra food to share with kids, and how they chat with her around this food,
  4. how she responds to every problem that she’s told with, “What happened first?,”
  5. how she always listens to kids and hears every side to every story,
  6. how she’s okay with saying, “no,” and asking a child to move if he/she needs a change,
  7. how she shares about her own children, as a way to have students open up about themselves,
  8. how she trusts children — from climbing a tree to delivering something around the school,
  9. and how kids always come first. Be it former students, current students, or even younger siblings. You can be in the middle of a huge tidy up, but if a child needs her, Paula is 100% there for that child. Every. Single. Time. 

Paula also learned things about me. She knows,

  1. that I chew on my lanyard when I’m feeling stressed,
  2. that I tend to stand back and watch first to get a feel of the room,
  3. that sensory play calms me,
  4. that I’ve watched and learned from her, and adopted many of her strategies when interacting with kids,
  5. that I will connect with her to get a different opinion or perspective,
  6. that long group times make me fidgety, and I prefer small group interactions with kids,
  7. that my face goes red when I’m feeling stressed,
  8. and that I will always fight for kids. Like her, they come first for me. Paula’s shown me even more ways to connect with kids and make it clear that they really are my first priority. 

  • We talk. A lot. We talk in person, we talk through text, and we talk through email. Paula and I are in constant contact with each other. This contact is important though, for as we talk, we listen and questionAnd it’s this questioning that has pushed me forward the most as an educator. In many ways, we’ve become each other’s critical friend,” and the ability to be open and honest with each other, are key components of that. 

We have many of the same values, but we are not the same people. We don’t always agree with each other, and this can cause conflict. But the key to this conflict, is that we’ve learned how to respectfully disagree. When we don’t agree, we …

  • ask more questions,
  • try to hear and understand different perspectives,
  • share our viewpoints,
  • try to stay focused on the issue and not the emotions (“keeping it cognitive,” as I was taught in the Teacher Leadership Part 1 course),
  • respond respectfully to what the other person says (a quieter, softer tone helps),
  • consider ways to balance both approaches,
  • and sometimes leave the idea hanging. There’s something to be said for thinking time, so if we can’t agree, sometimes we just air the different ideas and leave things alone. Sleeping on the issue, talking more on another day, or even maybe sharing a text later on that night, can all make a difference. 

When you have a strong connection first, even working through problems becomes easier. As you can see, our relationship did not happen by accident. By investing the time though, we’ve gotten to a point now where we can just look at each other, and we know what the other person is …

  • thinking,
  • feeling,
  • and about to say.

This kind of connection is more special than you can imagine, and makes Paula one of my favourite people. When John hired me many years ago now, I would have never anticipated a partnership like this, but I cannot thank him enough for what he did. How have other educators made their partnerships work? What happens when they don’t? There’s something to be said for reflecting back on what made the wonderful, possible.


2 thoughts on “What Makes A Partnership Work?

  1. Hi Aviva,

    Thank you for sharing – It is very inspiring to read about the strong relationship you have built and how you harness it in your practice. I don’t think we can do our best without strong partnerships built in trust. It is wonderful to be able to be vulnerable and work toward similar outcomes – and this is always will have the best impact with strong relationships!

    Thank you for sharing this important post,

    • Thanks for the comment, Deborah! Reading it I’m reminded about the hard work on both of our parts. Yes, trust is huge, and Paula and I have definitely created a relationship where we both trust each other. I’m curious to hear about relationships that others have as part of their positions, and how they harness these connections.


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