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The Happiness Challenge

Because I spend so much of my day thinking about relationships, I’m always delighted to see when they take center stage in an article or interview. When The New York Times debuted its 7-day Happiness Challenge in January, I was elated, both because I love the idea of straightforward steps that can impact your quality of life but also because, in no uncertain terms, it promoted the importance of having and maintaining strong, deep relationships.

The article that previewed the challenge said it clearly: “Developing strong relationships is the single most important thing you can do to have a fulfilling life.” While I’m not one of the many people who had their hands in the multigenerational study that drew that conclusion, the sentiment does jibe with my experience. I don’t need to be social all the time, but the more connected I am with other people, the more I feel content.

While this challenge does have one day devoted to improving relationships at work, I would encourage teachers to think about even more strategies to improve the relationships among adults at their school. Teaching is a profession that requires a great deal of navigating social dynamics and leaning into that work flexes those relational muscles.

Here are a few suggestions for school staff who want a place to start:

-Go for a 10-minute post-school walk with a colleague. Some of my fondest memories with coworkers are the ones where one of us would swing by and pick the other up, walking two or three laps around the school and talking about something that happened during the day. It didn’t need to be long, and it allowed us to share something that felt important or meaningful.

-Bring a cup of coffee or tea for the new teacher. Everyone has been the newest member of a team, and it can be difficult and lonely. This is a quick and easy way of making sure that person knows they’re seen, and it can open a crucial pathway for collaboration and comradery.

-Pick a colleague who seems constantly busy (they’re easy to find in schools!) and identify one task that you know they don’t like (or don’t have time) to do. Do it for them! It could be as small as picking up copies or refreshing their supply of dry erase markers. Small acts matter.

-Ask a colleague if they have time for a 7-minute check-in about something they’ve voiced interest in or concern over. Promise them to stick to your time limit and be aware of your own airtime. Let them have the floor and say whatever they need to.

-Write a note of appreciation to a teammate. It can be short but make it specific. Help one of your colleagues see a tangible way they’ve contributed that’s helped your or the team.

While the work of tending to relationships can be nuanced and time-consuming, it doesn’t have to be. By taking opportunities that feel small, we demonstrate our care for and commitment to the people we regularly interact with, and that can help to create a cohesive team that’s better able to weather challenges.

Do you have ideas to add to our list? Comment below!


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