What makes for a successful staffroom?

A friend is in the process of discussing how her school’s staffroom might be improved, in order to encourage more staff to use it, following the period of the pandemic when some staff perhaps got out of the habit of meeting centrally.  She asked if I would post a tweet asking for suggestions of what people appreciated about staffrooms, and what might attract more colleagues to make better use of the facility.  Within 24 hours I’d had more than fifty responses – thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion – and I thought I would write a blog to pull out the key messages.

The environment

The point was made that the staffroom area needs to be spacious enough comfortably to cater for those who are likely to use it.  A cramped staffroom is unlikely to feel welcoming.

It was suggested that a range of seating would contribute to both the comfort and the versatility of the space, enabling people to use it as suited them – couches, cushions, tables of different levels, high stools, and benches in addition to comfortable chairs.  USB points to enable staff to recharge phones were appreciated.  Plants were favoured by some.

Daily newspapers and Netflix reviews, jigsaws, crossword/puzzle books (perhaps a daily ‘Wordle’ on display?) a magnetic (could be wise!) dartboard, and events such as a weekly quiz were identified as some of the things which encourage people to make use of the staffroom. 

Suggestions for different staffroom activities reminded of the fact that, in the school where I was the head, at the end of my first year there I gave the staff a gift for making me feel so welcome.  I bought two baskets and filled each with novels (one for the Senior School and one for the Junior School), asking staff to borrow them, return them, add new books and, I hoped, chat about what they had read and enjoyed.  A second-hand book exchange system might serve the same purpose.

In terms of the physical atmosphere, good lighting and Hepa air filters were also mentioned.

Catering

Unsurprisingly, tea and coffee making facilities were mentioned many times, with some people pointing out that it needs to be possible to make a hot drink quickly, without waiting for a frequently refilled kettle to boil.  A ‘good quality coffee machine’ and ‘really, really decent coffee’ were identified as desirable.  Hot chocolate was mentioned, too.  Some tweeters felt strongly that hot drinks should be provided free of charge – and perhaps biscuits, occasional cake, chocolate, a snack basket and fruit too. One tweeter told me their school staff organised a weekly Bake Off.  Occasionally breakfast could be provided (eg a ‘Spanish breakfast’ of bread, tomatoes, cheese and ham was one request).  One school serves bacon sandwiches on a Friday.  Someone mentioned the appeal of having a toasted sandwich maker in there, and others requested a fridge (with free milk?), dishwasher, cold water filter, and (more than one) microwave.

The comments about catering made clear that this is not only about sustenance, keeping up energy levels and feeding the body.  It’s also about staff feeling valued, and provisions being generous and thoughtful, even in (especially in?) straitened times.

Atmosphere

Several people talked of ‘warmth’, more in terms of the camaraderie, support, care and humour in the community than the physical temperature of the space.  The relationships established among the staff were seen as key.  It’s worth everyone giving time to think about, and discuss, how those relationships can be established, nurtured and so maintained.  Company and conversation were valued by many of those who responded to the tweet. 

Some observed that if staff are drawn in to the staffroom by the facilities, they will stay, and make good use of it, because of the sense of community.

The comment was offered that keeping work notices out of the staffroom rest area, and perhaps confining those to a workroom or nearby lobby, might be more conducive to staff seeing the staffroom as a space where they can properly relax.  Others wanted a (reliable!) photocopier, computers/a printer, paper guillotine, laminator, pigeonholes and work stations in the staffroom itself.  A staff absence list was also mentioned.

No staffroom at all?

A small number of people said that their school had no staffroom.  One tweeter said they didn’t feel the need to take a break during the day (and I still can’t work whether that was a serious or an ironic comment).  I find the idea of there being no perceived need for a staffroom quite depressing.  How can you build the most positive relationships with your colleagues if you only interact in a professional context and you don’t have any ‘down time’ to rest and refresh?  And informally sharing good ideas in the staffroom is always likely to strengthen teaching and learning across the school.

Conclusion

I have written about staffrooms before, once in a general piece about why I think they’re important for making connections, and then following a conversation with a young woman (who had been a pupil in the school where I was the head), newly appointed internally to SLT and told that she should no longer use the staffroom, I wrote about whether/why heads and SLT should be welcome in the staffroom. Although I understand the reasons why some might consider the staffroom to be a relaxing space for those who do not have Senior Leadership responsibility, I felt strongly that as a Senior Leader, and later a head, my capacity to build positive, warm and mutually respectful relationships with all the staff would have been seriously hampered if I’d not been able to connect with them informally in the staffroom.  As one tweeter said:

A recent evidence review on ‘School environment and leadership’, from Robert Coe and his team, talks of how crucial it is that leaders create the best possible conditions, and the right environment, within which the most successful teaching and learning can thrive.  Sometimes this involves removing barriers; ensuring staff have autonomy and agency and feel inspired and valued rather than constrained; ‘getting out of the way’ and letting those you lead get on with their jobs.  Underpinning all this has to be the most constructive and supportive relationships and strong and respectful communication.

Where the staffroom is concerned, providing facilities, sustenance, comfort, and the opportunity to refresh has to be a key part of this.  Schools need staffrooms because staff need staffrooms.  We need to invest in our staff, and we need to invest in our staffrooms.  Importantly, staff need each other.  In schools where the atmosphere in the staffroom is both relaxed and energising, it seems to me that the likelihood of the staff feeling positive, motivated and committed to doing the best job they can for the pupils they constantly interact with outside the staffroom doors is significantly increased.

As one tweeter said, “Make it inviting, and they will come!” Enjoy your staffrooms, and the company of those with whom you share the space.

Photo credit:  Thanks to Caroline Prince, Werrington Primary School, for sharing this image of their refurbished staffroom!

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