When I posted my blog on Staff Training Days, in which I said, “A staff training day needs to be the start of a conversation, not the end of it”, one Twitter contact commented:
“It’s great to start the conversation but when is there time to continue it? I mourn the passing of busy Common Rooms filled with staff sharing good practice and offering each other support – that’s when real development happened.” (@MrAndrewLamb)
This made me thoughtful. Across my thirty-year career, teaching in six different schools, the staffroom was always an important place for me. In the early days in my first school, especially, it was the source of considerable support and reassurance. In my subsequent schools, even when I had a strong departmental base, and in due course an office of my own, spending time in the staffroom with colleagues from across the school, both teaching and support staff, and leaders at all levels, was always sustaining and refreshing.
As a head, I made sure I went into the staffroom frequently, to touch base with different people, to chat about a range of subjects, to be available to those who needed to ‘catch me’, to have a cup of tea and to relax in the company of my colleagues. I remember Steve Munby, when he was the Chief Executive of the National College, saying to school leaders: “If you walk into the staffroom and it all goes quiet, that’s when you need to stay, not leave.” Establishing relationships and building trust is a crucial part of leadership, and staffrooms are key places where you have the opportunity to do this.
I do understand that sometimes people need the ‘safety-valve’ of the staffroom as a place to off-load, and that’s important too, but if there is significant disgruntlement among the staff body, heads and senior leaders need to be aware of that and taking steps to address the issues. So a staffroom which was a ‘no go’ area for the head would always have made me uncomfortable.
While I was reflecting on the function and importance of staffrooms in our schools and colleges, I read the book ‘The Lost Girls’, by Charlotte Woolley (@miss_tiggr on Twitter), who said:
“Teachers need spaces where they can be with each other, share ideas and let off steam.”
This relates to the ‘safety-valve’ idea, and also connects to Andrew’s point about sharing with and learning from each other – and contributing to the learning of your colleagues. I know this happens in subject-specialist areas, but think it can be particularly powerful on a school-wide basis, finding common ground and mutual benefit when talking to teachers of subjects other than our own. I always remember Tim Brighouse’s observation that one sign of a great school is where teachers talk to other teachers about teaching.
However, it’s important that staffrooms offer you the opportunity to talk about other things, too. In the school where I was Head of English, for example, someone had placed a box under the staffroom table into which people put novels they had read and enjoyed. Books were constantly being swapped, shared, read and discussed. It led to some fascinating conversations and debates, and opened my eyes to a number of new writers. I was so impressed with the idea that, at the end of my first year of headship, as a thank you to the staff for making me welcome, I bought two baskets, one for the Senior School staffroom and the second for our Junior School staffroom, and filled them with novels I had been impressed with, to start off the process.
So staffrooms are, in my view, key to healthy relationships, to productive professional sharing, and to finding balance and supporting ways in which we can relax. And I feel the same about Twitter for educators, which has been described as “the best staffroom in the world”. In the weeks and months ahead, online networking, support and friendships should be crucial as we continue to make, and gain strength from, our connections.
Hoping you all keep healthy and stay safe.
Image credit: John Berry