Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Joyful Place

Do you eat or hang out in the faculty lounge in your school? Interestingly, as I was reading an interesting post about the do's and dont's of teacher leaders I found myself disagreeing with this one: Don't hang out in the teacher's lounge.

Had you asked me a few months ago, and someone did, I would have whole-heartedly agreed. I used to loathe going into the faculty lounge (or anywhere else the staff congregated and complained). Like the post, I associated the faculty lounge as the place where teachers complained.
1) About kiddos.
2) About the system.
3) About parents.
4) about their husbands (colleagues, children).
5) About anything they could possibly gripe about.
I'm all for a good unloading now and then, but I want nothing to do with trashing kiddos. And so, when I was asked a few months back if I eat in the faculty lounge (and why) I said, "No, because I don't care to hear children being ripped apart by adults."

However, if you were to ask me this question today I would have a completely different response. I would say that I absolutely eat in the faculty lounge. I look forwardto going into the faculty lounge. I struggle to return to my classroom on time after being in the faculty lounge. If you were to ask me why, I would say:
1) We talk about everything but work.
2) We use that time to just be silly.
3) We laugh.
4) I get to know my colleagues.
5) My mind gets a mental vacation from the gazillion decisions I have to
make with kiddos.
Once upon a time the faculty lounge was a place of stress. Now it is a source of pure joy. If I had to hypothesize I would say it has to do with environment and expectations; culture.

I have noticed that in the joyful faculty lounge school the teachers have expectations and demands placed on them. However, they are provided with professional support. There are instructional coaches for literacy, math and science, and technology. Folks are available to answer questions and help navigate the curriculum; helpful with the Common Core! Having this type of support most likely makes it easier to unwind during lunch times.

I have noticed that the staff's emotional well being is important; the adults are encouraged to hang out with each other (for purposes other than PLCs). They are encouraged to spend time with each other during the kiddos' snack time. I remember how giddy I felt when a colleague told me to go "socialize in the teacher's room". It also helps that the staff has longer lunch periods provided to them. Not having enough time to eat can be a common complaint of teachers, and having time to enjoy your food with friendly conversation is helpful. And lastly, the administration means family first. When a staff's child or parent is ill and those needs need to be attended they can do so without (public) reprimanding.

I have noticed that the way the adults speak to each other is with kindness; even if they disagree. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I haven't heard colleagues trash-talking each other. Nor have I seen anyone roll their eyes when a colleague speaks or shares. I see people listening to each other. Asking questions. Even the joking around is good natured ribbing, without mean intent.

The quickest way to a crabby faculty lounge is a crabby culture. Staff being spoken to in condescending tones. Staff only told of what they are doing wrong. Perceived favoritism. Unrealistic demands without support. Stating something and not meaning it. The way to a laughing lounge is quite the opposite. Provide support for the staff, particularly when new mandates are implemented. Celebrate everyone's accomplishments and contributions equally. Speak to the staff kindly, and sincerely. State what the staff is doing well in whole group, small groups, and individually. Most importantly, believe that your staff has well meaning intentions and wants to teach well.