The School Staffroom
The value of the staffroom in schools.
There may be two polarised views about the staffroom in schools. On the one hand a place for gossip and rumour and possibly dissent to thrive and on the other hand a rich source of informal professional development, somewhere to unwind, and a communication centre. Of course it can be many things to many people but where does the balance sit in your school?
I was once told by a wise bursar that you can tell a lot about a school by the staff toilets. I think the same is true of the staffroom. In my experience you can make an initial guess at what the staffroom is to a school and what it provides by seeing who is there are key times of the day. If it is like the Mary Celeste for most of the day and you only find people there at time required by SLT and certainly not after the bell has gone at the end of the day you may decide that the staffroom is a waste of space. On the other hand if as soon as you open the door to the staffroom you are hit with a wall of chatter, people meeting and greeting each other and the smell of coffee you may regard it as one of the most important rooms in the school.
In my experience any school that abandons the staffroom does so at the risk of losing a great deal both in terms of staff cohesion and informal CPD. I know that in large schools travel to and from the staffroom may take some time and with short breaks and almost none existent lunch periods it is much easier for staff to ‘stay local’ as it were. Easier is not always better though and I would urge that arrangements are made to make the opportunity available for staff to get together in the staffroom once a day or at least a couple of times a week. Of course with social media, texting and e-mails available people may argue the staffroom has had its day but where else can you inadvertently pick up what can be valuable information about what is going on, student issues and offer your help or advice to those staff facing challenges that may be new to them.
Staffroom dynamics have always been an interesting reflection of the attitudes and values of a school too. At one school I worked in each member of staff had ‘their seat’, and subjects ‘their corner’ of the staff room. Crossing these invisible boundaries was unheard of and on one occasion where I ‘mixed it up’ it caused some concern for a little while. I some schools it was seen as a sanctuary away from the leadership of the school and went strangely quiet if they entered and in others a collegiate melting pot where position or rank was regarded only after experience and value of advice or comment.
Fun, the lubricant of the teaching and learning engine.
One great advantage the staffroom has is that it can allow people to let their hair down a little and have some fun. Here are two examples from my own hands of using the staffroom for a little fun.
Imagine the summer term and the end of the academic year. Students started their holiday on Wednesday and teachers returned on Thursday for two days of training. Imagine how staff must have felt coming back to school on that first training day. L
Now imagine turning up to the staffroom to find a beach scene with palm plants (Blue Peter style), paddling pool, a crazy golf course, tunes of the Beach Boys playing and a certain member of staff in ‘wild’ Bermuda shorts and shirt with a drink in hand sitting under an umbrella. Well the look on staff faces as they came up to the staffroom was priceless, from a frown into a smile in an instant. The mood was set for the two days. I really should have told somebody though because the Head was a little nervous about what our guests would think when they saw it. We need not have worried, one rolled up his trousers and went paddling, and the other had a game of golf. Both said what a great way to inject a little fun and admitted they had been a little concerned about how staff would receive them with it being the end of busy term and staff tired. Result J
At a particularly stressful time for all during the opening of a new school with unfinished buildings and temporary accommodation resulting in a split site, the staffroom was a very important place. However on any given day there is always something to celebrate if you look hard enough (a ‘on this day’ search). For one day each month I found something to celebrate and turned this into a one lunch period celebration event. The event and its requirements need to be published ahead of time to give people time to plan and to have something to look forward to.
One example was the forming of the Bank of England 1694. With only a little money spent on cakes and a few photocopies little preparation was required. The entry fee was by showing a pre decimal coin. This lead to some ingenuity by staff and forgeries were accepted!
So if you think your staffroom could play a much needed part in the life of your school perhaps you could start by celebrating something one lunch period each month and see how it goes.
If you want a few more ideas on how to make the most of the staffroom or want to share one of your own you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more details about my LQ concept and any of my other ideas and strategies for school improvement, training, and teacher coaching then drop me an e-mail and I will contact you to arrange a time to discuss your needs.