A few years ago, I wrote an article for the magazine It’s for Teachers about Surviving the staff room. It was based on my experience at a private language school that suffered from low staff morale (a familiar story for many private language school teachers). A colleague of mine and I managed to turn things around considerably, and one of the first places we started was the staff room. I won’t go into all the details here, but I would like to share six little ideas on making your staff room (if you have one, I know many of you don’t!) a better place to be and hopefully have some of this goodness rub off on the staff itself!
1. Plants and posters
Decorate the staff room with posters (and not just the publisher’s free giveaway posters of irregular verbs and maps of Britain etc) and, more importantly, plants. Plants in a room help lighten the atmosphere a lot. Make sure there is good lighting, and room to move – so even in a small space don’t pack it with too many tables, bookshelves etc.
Have a corkboard on the wall where you can stick not just official announcements but teaching ideas, activities and so on. In one school I worked at we called it the Sharing board. It worked really well, there was always something interesting you could grab off it for class. Also perhaps have a “lesson idea of the week” section or “website of the week”. Staff members take turns suggesting things for those slots.
3. Food and drink
An electric kettle, fresh water, tea and biscuits can do wonders to a staff room and for the staff’s morale. Ideally paying for this should be the management’s job but I’ve worked in environments where we all took turns bringing things in. Warning: make sure you put in place a system of cleaning up. Dirty mugs and crumbs everywhere can have a very negative effect!
4. Fun and games
In one staff room I worked in I would put up the Guardian quick crossword every couple of days. We made it a competition on how fast we could solve it together. I think the record was just over 2 minutes by a group of three teachers. It was lots of fun. You could do something similar, or put up word games or puzzles. Another thing we did was top ten lists, where people had to write up their top ten films, activities, books, places they had been etc.
I’ve seen staff rooms which have a nice wall of photos of the various teachers and administrative staff. Photos of people at work, at the end-of-year party, on excursions etc. It always makes the place look more welcoming to see that. A nice idea would be for the school to invest in a digital photo frame and have a series of photos on a continual loop. These kinds of things can really help a sense of community.
I think the saddest thing in a school is when every teacher is hoarding their own resources (activities, lesson plans etc). It’s a sign of mutual trust and respect to have a series of shared things that teachers can dip into. This could be a filing cabinet (or folders on a computer) full of activities that everyone can use. It could be a plastic box full of whiteboard markers, dice, pointers, cuisinaire rods or whatever. If you’re in a good school with some money and management who care about professional development I’d say there should be several resource books for teachers on a shelf which can be borrowed by the staff. These aren’t frills. They’re necessary for your job.
What about you? Do you have a staffroom? How good is it? What is the best staff room you’ve been in? Post a comment!
Note: this blogpost is based in part on ideas that appeared in the Language Teacher’s Survival Handbook (written by myself with Duncan Foord) and an article on Humanising Language Teaching also by Duncan Foord and I.