Working alongside a difficult colleague can sometimes feel like navigating a labyrinth, with no clear path to understanding and resolution.
However, armed with the right set of tools, we can turn these winding corridors of conflict into a road map for better cooperation.
How to Manage Conflict with a Difficult Co-Teacher
Here are five practical strategies to effectively deal with a challenging co-teacher in your professional journey.
- Direct Communication: Approach the co-worker privately and discuss the issues you’re experiencing. Clearly state the specific behaviors that are causing difficulties without getting personal or assigning blame. Instead of saying, “You’re always late,” you might say, “When our shared classes start, I notice you’re often not present, which makes it challenging to begin the lesson smoothly. Can we work on this together?” This direct, non-confrontational approach might lead to understanding and resolve the problem.
- Use Active Listening Techniques: During discussions, use active listening to ensure you fully understand their perspective. This includes not interrupting, reflecting back what you’ve heard to confirm understanding, and asking open-ended questions to promote further dialogue. This shows respect for their views and can often de-escalate tense situations.
- Seek Assistance from a Mentor or Superior: If direct communication doesn’t help or isn’t possible due to power dynamics, you might seek advice from a more experienced colleague or your direct supervisor. They may have experienced similar situations before and can provide guidance on the best course of action. If the situation doesn’t improve, it may be necessary to request formal intervention.
- Document Instances of Difficult Behavior: Keeping a record of instances when the co-worker has been challenging to work with can be useful. It provides specific examples you can reference when addressing the issue, whether in conversation with the individual or when discussing it with management. This record can also be helpful if there’s a formal complaint process involved.
- Use Professional Development Opportunities: If the co-worker is open to it, suggest attending workshops or training sessions together that focus on team-building, communication, or conflict resolution. This can provide both of you with a neutral space to work on improving your relationship, as well as learning new strategies to reduce conflict and increase collaboration.
Think of the Children!
Ensuring students remain unaffected by co-worker disputes is paramount for several reasons.
Firstly, these conflicts can disrupt the learning environment, creating uncertainty and anxiety that may hinder academic progress. Secondly, students look up to teachers as role models, and visible discord can compromise this role, affecting their understanding of healthy professional relationships.
Therefore, resolving these issues discreetly and professionally safeguards the students’ well-being and promotes a harmonious educational atmosphere.
Should I Ignore, or Confront, a Difficult Co-Worker in Education?
While not the first choice for many, sometimes choosing to ignore a difficult co-worker can have its benefits.
This approach can help maintain a peaceful working environment by avoiding unnecessary confrontation and can also allow you to focus more on your students and your work rather than the conflict.
However, this strategy is most effective for minor irritations and not for situations that significantly impact the quality of your work, your emotional well-being, or the learning environment for students.
When Should I Involve My Principal?
It depends on the severity and impact of the situation. If direct communication with the co-teacher hasn’t resolved the issue, or if the difficult behavior continues to negatively impact your work or the learning environment, then it may be necessary to involve your principal or another higher authority.
It’s important to keep this step professional: present facts and specific instances of problematic behavior, express how it’s impacting you and potentially the students, and ask for guidance or intervention.
Remember, the goal is to resolve the issue and create a better working and learning environment, not to get the co-worker “in trouble”.
*Before escalating concerns to administration, it’s almost always beneficial to directly communicate with the co-worker causing the issue, as this shows respect for their autonomy and provides an opportunity for them to address the problem directly.
Remember, it’s important to keep all discussions respectful and professional, focused on work-related behavior and not personal attributes.
Personal disagreements unrelated to the job should not spill over into the classroom or disrupt the educational process. As educators, our focus should always be on creating and maintaining the best possible learning environment for our students, regardless of personal differences.
It’s also key to remember that people can change and improve, and often what is perceived as “difficult” behavior is due to misunderstandings or unmet needs that can be addressed with patience, empathy, and clear communication.
To wrap up, it’s crucial that no matter what happens between teachers, students’ learning isn’t disrupted – their education should always come first, untouched by any workplace disagreements.