I have visited and worked at many schools during my time as a teacher, especially through supply work, sometimes up to 5 schools in a week. One thing I always find interesting is the staffroom. Not only the physical aspect of it but also how the functions and dynamics differ from school to school. There seems to be a decline in the traditional staffroom with some schools completely getting rid of it.
When I was a student many years ago I remember the staffroom was forbidden territory, a place only teachers were allowed. It was a secret room that I had never seen and I always wondered what was going on inside. Even if you needed to speak to a teacher, you would knock on the door and stand a safe distance away, wait for the staff member to step outside while you could hear the sounds of fun and laughter from the other side of the door. Years later I actually went back to work at the school I attended and to be quite honest I was very disappointed. I’m not sure what I was expecting to find but it was very underwhelming. My innocent teenage mind had set my expectations way too high. It really was just a room.
The staffroom today is an institution in itself. Simply put, it’s the room for staff. To have their lunch, to have a cup of tea, to sit and unwind. But the purpose and function of the room itself has changed dramatically. The staffroom has now been replaced by ‘departmental offices’ the social aspect has been eradicated.
In one school I worked at, a central staffroom did not exist; they now had department work rooms. This meant interaction with other members of staff from other departments were limited. It was also such a small room that most staff preferred to sit in their own classrooms instead of being stuck in a hot stuffy claustrophobic environment. This particular room had no window, and looked more like a long prison cell. As a supply teacher who didnt have her own room, I would spend my lunch and break in there and occasionally there would be a member of staff sat quietly working on their laptop, uninviting of any conversation. I felt paranoid that my shuffling crisp packet would be a nuisance!
When being shown round a school, one Headteacher explained that she decided to get rid of the staffroom as it is a place of gossip, complaining and wasting time. She said she didn’t want to promote that type of ‘energy’ in her school. This conversation helped me decide that this was not the place I wanted to work. Although I do somewhat agree with her viewpoint, surely there should be a balance. All teachers need a place to unwind, relax and just be away from the classroom. It’s a room where you are no longer Miss or Mr but instead you are just another adult, being referred to by your own name and having conversations about whatever you want.
I think it can be seen a step too far to monitor the ‘vibe’ in the staffroom. Don’t get me wrong, I have been in staffroom where all you can hear is complaining and whining and negativity. It’s not a very welcoming environment. There have been occasions where I have entered the staffroom to do a bit of quiet marking and all I can hear is a loud group of teachers laughing, screaming and discussing inappropriate topics of conversation. This is also their space, so who am I to complain? In this same school, my head of department would wander into the staffroom and ask ‘haven’t you got exam papers to mark?’ or give me a judging glance as I was enjoying a hot beverage and talking to a TA in my free lesson. Needless to say, I stopped going to the staffroom as often, or when I did, I made sure I was looking ‘busy.’ But on the other hand, after a horrible lesson, sometimes I just wanted to go into the staffroom and share the horrors of the experience to a sympathetic ear.
We’ve all been there. You walk out of that classroom, sit in the staffroom with a warm cup of tea and do nothing. Other times you end up spending an hour catching up with a colleague you haven’t spoken to in weeks. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and a lot of the time that time out is definitely needed!
Staffrooms can be a place of wonderful joy. It’s always nice when the Head teacher has left baked goods and treats to improve staff morale or when there is a cake sale. It’s nice to walk in when a staff member is leaving and there are presents and cards left on the desk or just spending some time reading the notice board to see the latest achievements of the pupils. It’s a sad sentiment that schools and Head teachers are getting rid of this space. A lot of schools now don’t provide free tea and coffee either (which makes me really sad!)
The best staffroom I have been in was in the school I did my initial teacher training. There were the plush comfy chairs which were usually taken up and reserved by the Teaching Assistants. There was a separate work room with computers for silent work as well as computers dotted around the main area. A small kitchen area with FREE tea and coffee (something I have only seen at one school!) Every Friday there were free cakes and biscuits provided by a different department each week – there would be certain members of staff you would only see on Friday! The reprographics room was in the annex attached to the staffroom so you could kill two birds with one stone, instead of having to trek to the other side of the school. There were also round tables for teachers to sit together and have lunch/work and most importantly a great stack of trashy magazines with the Times Education Supplement thrown in! I think the thing I liked the best about this staffroom was the big windows and the amount of natural light coming in. The sofas and chairs were comfortable and brightly coloured and it just felt like a happy, positive place to be.
I think it is important that schools use this space in the best possible way. With the increase of mental health issue and stress related illnesses in schools, there must be ways Head teachers can maximise the potential of the staffroom to increase staff wellbeing. A good idea is to have an area where there a bank of resources/teaching ideas for staff to utilise in making their job a lot easier. The staffroom should be a functional space too – so stationary, books and photocopying should also be available, with a range of different spaces for different types of work. I don’t think there is such a thing as the perfect staffroom, but I believe it should be a welcoming space where any teacher can come in to work, relax, unwind and have the opportunity to have some inspiring and useful conversations with colleagues, without feeling judged. And if you just want to find a space to clear your head, moan and have a break from the kids, then this should be the place for you too!
How is the staffroom utilised in your school? How can Headteachers improve the use of staffrooms? Should there be rules? What does YOUR perfect staffroom look like?
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