Surround Yourself with the Right People

Teachers spend an exorbitant amount of time at school. The relationships created within the school walls last a lifetime. Engage with the people that are going to support, challenge, and grow you as an educator.

*This video contains graphic language*

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is making the psychiatrist rounds. In this session, he meets Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) for the first time. While Sean tries to make small talk, Will circulates the room taking inventory of his new surroundings.

Will hones in on the many novels around the room. Like he has done with previous therapists, Will tries to goad Sean. But, Sean is not taking the bait. Unable to insult Sean, Will questions Sean’s taste in books, “You want to read a real history book, read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.” Unwilling to back down, Sean counters with, “Better than Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent?”

Refusing to answer any of Sean’s questions, Will closes by telling Sean, “You fuckin’ people baffle me. You spend all your money on these fuckin’ fancy books. You surround yourselves with them, and they’re the wrong fuckin’ books.” Without missing a beat Sean responds, “What are the right fuckin’ books, Will?”

Sean’s question extends far beyond books. He is talking about Will. What friends is Will surrounding himself with? What opportunities? What jobs? The answer to these questions, and more importantly why Will makes these life choices, is what the movie sets to discover.

Implications for Education

The saying goes, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Since most educators live in their schools and classrooms, there is a good chance that a few of those five people are fellow educators.

The question is, “Who are you choosing to surround yourself with?”

Growth Groups

HONESTY – Students are not going to get better if people do not provide honest feedback. You want to know when lessons go well, but you should also want to know when they go poorly. Constructive feedback helps us as we fine-tune our instruction.

OPTIMISM – It is going to be okay. No matter what the situation, positivity helps pick people up and move them forward. An optimistic group will look for the silver lining in every situation. They will use setbacks and obstacles to improve their instruction.

COMPETITION – It feels good to be pushed. When you hear about that amazing lesson that was delivered by a grade level peer it sparks a little bit of jealousy, and that is a good thing. When teachers challenge each other, they better themselves as educators. And, the best part is that individual successes are shared with the group, so everyone wins.

REPRIEVE – It does not always have to be about education. Sometimes you need a group that is going to make you laugh. Sometimes you need a group that is going to give you show or movie recommendations. As mentioned earlier, you are living at school, so it is beneficial to take a break from it every once and a while.

Toxic Teams

UNACCOUNTABLE – “It’s not your fault.” “He did nothing for me last year” “Have you seen his mother?” It is never good to be around others that will make excuses for you. Especially, when those excuses place the blame solely on students and their families. If student outcomes are predetermined, then why teach in the first place?

CYNICAL – Everything is a bad idea. Things will never get better. The glory days are long gone. When these types of comments are heard repeatedly, they get internalized. This type of negativity impacts the demeanor and disposition we bring to our students. Students will never respond to a teacher who wears negativity on their sleeve.

CONTENT – The mountain peak is continuously rising. You will never get there. Because, what worked for students last year, won’t necessarily work for students today. That is what makes education so wonderful. It is student centered. You have to develop relationships with your students to understand how to best reach them. Relying on what you have always done implies that every student is the same. This mindset will lead to stagnation or even deterioration in your instruction.

DISHEARTENING – If you leave a conversation with educators feeling worse than when you arrived, it is probably not a group you want to be hanging around with. Misery loves company. Educators who choose to be unaccountable, cynical, and content need others to mirror these toxic attitudes. Otherwise, they would stick out like the sore thumb that they are.

Teaching is a very solitary profession. However, it is amazing how much we take from our peer interactions into the classroom. Reflect on the adults in the school who you spend the most time with. Do those relationships make you a better teacher? If not, start surrounding yourself with “the right people.”

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