Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
When Dante Watson became principal of Haisley Elementary this school year, he noticed one thing fairly quickly: Second grade teachers Paula Everett and Alicia Rey-Murrell have a close bond that positively affects their personal and professional lives, as well as their 52 students.
The two are not team teachers. But as close friends, collaborators, confidantes, and fellow partners in fun, laughter, and dance, they help each other get through every work day in good spirits.
A school culture of such tight, supportive relationships is exactly what Watson hopes to promote as he moves forward.
“Relationships are everything,” he says. “They can make or break a school. The way that we treat one another is the way that we will instruct, we will operate as a school. If we have a divide, we won’t be as strong as we can be. If we’re not all connected and strong together, supporting one another, then if we have a disagreement, we will fail. Or we won’t be as strong.
Our students won’t reach their maximum potential and neither will we as educators.”
Though there are other teachers throughout the building who work closely together, Watson says he’s especially impressed by the relationship between Everett and Rey-Murrell.
“When I first came here, I could tell their relationship went deep,” says Watson. “It was more than just a surface level of being in a classroom. You can tell when someone has a deep relationship by the way they interact, by the things they talk about and how honest they’re able to be with one another.”
Both Rey-Murrell and Everett agree that their nine-year-old friendship benefits their students as well.
“We work together to create happy, successful and engaged second graders,” says Rey-Murrell. “If we model this, they will follow.”
Having a good friend next door makes life easier for practical reasons, Everett says. If either of them needs to take a day off, they will text the other and help make plans, knowing that the others’ students will know that even with a substitute teacher in the room, the other teacher will be right next door to keep them accountable.
They are soundboards for each other, both professionally and personally, and make sure they meet once a week—either during a planning period, lunch break, or restaurant for breakfast.
If one says, “What about this?” and the other says, “Uh, no…” they don’t let their feelings get hurt.
As the only two second grade teachers at Haisley, they plan all curriculum together.
Everett says that one of the most obvious benefits of such a close relationship is simple: They have fun.
“I look forward to coming to work and seeing my colleague,” she says.
“We go in each other’s classroom and dance and just act silly.”
“The team that laughs together stays together,” says Watson.
Rey-Murrell says that when a moment becomes frustrating, she can walk through the bathroom that connects the two rooms, vent for a few seconds, and feel restored after Everett makes her laugh or shares or validates her frustrations.
“We have worked together long enough to know what the other one needs without having to say much, which is a huge gift,” she says.
Both Rey-Murrell and Everett say such connections can’t be forced.
“Sometimes connections don’t happen automatically, but a collegial and respectful relationship is a must for any workplace,” says Rey-Murrell. “If there is any conflict, address it with the person and do it sooner rather than later so hard feelings don’t grow. Find commonalities, laugh at each other and yourselves, have fun with your students and let your students see you have fun with one another.”
Rey-Murrell, who has taught for 21 years, appreciates the fact that Watson values their relationship, and that he was able to pick up on it so quickly.
“I think it’s telling about him and what he values,” she says. “I know he values the same thing I value, which is very reassuring.”