Below is a post that I penned over the Christmas holidays but didn't publish at the time as I was reflecting and focused on other tasks at the time including getting myself prepared for working in my new school. This is something that I have come back to and have decided to share... I do hope you find it useful to consider even if you don't agree with my suggestion... so here it is.
I have had the pleasure of visiting many schools over the last fourteen years as an external education provider and I am impressed by the quality of education offered to so many children throughout our country. Teachers are often under huge pressure from parents, the media, the government and other members of the community and despite this they turn up and give the best of themselves for the children in their classes. It is admirable. I do worry about teacher mental health and wellbeing however. And one of the places I think we can start to address this is in the staffroom (and I am not talking about the biscuits we eat this time!)
I am as guilty as anyone for entering the hallowed ground of the staffroom and declaring how a particular child or set of children or parent has really annoyed me then listing the reasons why they are difficult to work with. I used to believe that this was a healthy practice as it got it all out of my system and helped me walk back into the classroom with a fresh perspective. Now I am older, and I hope a little wiser, I think this was wrong. What I think I was actually doing was priming myself- who do you think I noticed first when I walked back into the classroom? It was the offending party from the morning tea conversation because inadvertently I was looking for them... now if they were doing something positive of course I noticed and praised them but the fact of the matter was I had mentally singled them out without meaning to.
We do need to offload but I am not sure that the wider staffroom setting is the best place to do this. It creates negativity, and we start sharing war stories and worse still start may even act in a way that we would never accept from students. How would you respond to a small group of students talking about another child like this:
"he's such a pain, I hate working with him"
"I don't know why he bothers to come to school, it's a complete waste of time, he isn't learning anything"
"he'll end up a criminal, just look at his big brother/sister, he's going exactly the same way"
I know how I would respond. I would first ask how they would feel if someone spoke about them like that, I would explain that we don't have to be friends with everyone but we need to be friendly, I would probably go on to suggest that sometimes people behave in certain ways because of other things in their lives and so on. I might question them about how we could make a difference and come up with solutions rather than just moan about someone who isn't even here to defend themselves. I wouldn't sit down with them and agree.
Now I know that this sounds bad so please know that this isn't what staffroom conversations are dominated by at all. In fact most often it is sharing news from our own lives, telling funny stories about things that have happened in our classrooms and sharing some other things that are going on as well as planning, marking and sharing ideas. I just think we need to banish any moaning without solutions to another place and time.
I am a big fan of critically reflective practice and Coaching Leadership and believe that this is an appropriate place for us to unpack the difficult relationships we are often faced with in teaching. In these situations where we have had a tough morning or day I would suggest that putting it down on paper is helpful to get it out of your head. Then arrange a time and place to talk through this with a peer/coach (and if you have a person on your staff that you are working with in this capacity that is brilliant) where the focus is on unpacking the problem, working through possible solutions and establishing some strategies to manage going forward.
This year I am going to make a concerted effort to avoid the negative comments about students and take a positive solution focused stance in the staffroom. I also want to build relationships with my colleagues and have the staffroom break times being a place that is refreshing and restorative. As teachers we need to be mindful of our own mental health and wellbeing and I believe by making the staffroom space a low stress, positive, friendly space where we can be inspired and energised we are certainly taking a step in the right direction.
This is a timely reminder for me to keep my focus on the positive in our staffroom. I've been doing OK so far mostly but need to remain aware. :)