Three Ways to Be A Better Colleague

One of the things I do when I step up on the stage, when I stand up to translate, when I go to teach my classes, when I go to direct a movie, I bring everyone who has ever been kind to me.  ~ Dr. Maya Angelou


I don’t mean that you have to literally have your classroom door open all the time. There are practical and logistical reasons why this might not work for everybody. What I mean is you can to make it feel like your door is always open to your colleagues and you are sharing what you do in your classroom. Too many schools feel like egg crates, where each classroom is isolated from the one next door, and nobody really knows what goes on in each room. In some schools, adults in the building rarely share what they are doing, and it it is taboo to drop in on a colleague’s classroom without advance notice.

I’ve worked in some schools like this, and I’ve also worked in schools where it is the norm to drop in on each other’s classrooms all the time, doors are wide “open” (metaphorically open, even when they are actually shut).

How can you be the kind of colleague that helps create this culture in your school? Some things to try:

  • Invite your colleagues into your classroom often. You might start with easy invitations, such as end-of-unit celebrations. Or send out an invite to colleagues stop by less formally and check out writing on display in your classroom. Visitors can slip in any time and leave a note for your authors on a post-it.
  • Invite a trusted peer to observe you teach or co-teach with you. Choose a professional goal to work on together, like shorter minilessons, or explicit teaching points in your writing conferences, and agree to coach each other if the minilesson is getting too long, or the teaching points aren’t very clear (or whatever the focus may be).
  • If you’re ready for it, try joining the #observeme movement! Check it out! Essentially, you post a simple sign outside your classroom door that invites people to stop by and observe. I find this teacher-created, teacher-centered movement incredibly inspiring. Find out more by clicking here or here.


I consider the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project to be my educator family, and one thing that my educator family taught me was to share. “Sharing is caring!” my colleague Tiffany Davis-Nealy says all the time. There is nothing better than being on the receiving end of colleague gifts: a really cool conferring checklist, a book list, a unit plan. These things take so much work and time. Personally, I sacrifice time with my family and friends for every handout and google slide I create. To receive these things when they are shared with me is a joy, and a privilege.

The only thing better than being on the receiving end is to be the person to share your “things” with colleagues who appreciate them. If you’re making small photocopies of anchor charts anyway for your kids, offer to make them for the teacher next door, too. If you find a really good article or resource, send it out to your teacher friends. They’ll appreciate it.

It’s not just sharing “stuff” that makes a difference to school culture. It’s also being generous with your time. Visiting a colleague during writing workshop just to be present, covering recess duty if you can, meeting during lunch to brainstorm solutions to a classroom dillemma a colleague needs help with. These all matter and have ripple effects.

One last important way we can be generous to our colleagues is to simply practice empathy and patience. Sometimes we are each called upon to spend time in a professional learning situation that might not be the perfect fit. Perhaps you wind up in a “first year” section of an institute, but you maybe should have been in an “advanced” section? Instead of disengaging, you can be the person who models really smart questions, who demonstrates positivity, who is there to usher colleagues along even though you might already know the way. That too, is being generous.


It doesn’t cost anything to be kind, and kindness has a multiplier effect when practiced. Just simply being kind can literally change the culture of your grade level team, even your whole school. This video series on the science of kindness is eyeopening and relevant to improving school culture.

You simply never know what your colleagues might have going on in their lives. Assume good intentions, give people the benefit of the doubt, and just be kind (even when it is really, really challenging). Be the rainbow in someone else’s cloud.

9 thoughts on “Three Ways to Be A Better Colleague

  1. The #observeme movement is new to me. Thanks for sharing it!

    When I taught in RI, we regularly kept our doors open and did intervisitations. I taught fourth grade and was paired with a Kindergarten teacher. It was wonderful to have the chance to visit her classroom to see what she was doing. I always learned something.


  2. I love the video and plan to share it w/ students in my dual credit speech class. Many don’t understand that I see helping them outside of class as something that fulfills me, too. They think they’re being a burden, which, of course, they’re not.


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