The Big Night Out: Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea

As the term winds down, or winds up depending on how much you have left to finish, thoughts will turn this fortnight to the staff Christmas night out. Thanks must be given to the Social Secretary, be they self-appointed or had a nudge to organise something. That person has selected a venue, collected a fiver from everyone once a month since September, organised menus and completed this in their own time too.

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A social occasion, be it at Christmas, the end of the school year or to celebrate a special birthday, can be a way to build your team, create bonds, to talk to someone you may not have interacted with for a while and to celebrate success. However it is important to remember that not everyone feels comfortable in such situations. So in the interest of the wellbeing and mindset of such people, that is the subject of today’s blog.

There will be some people who will not attend their staff ‘do’ this week. Some will have family and childcare commitments, or prior arrangements; others will be unwell or simply exhausted; some senior staff deliberately do not attend  as they know that their presence may put off some staff from letting their hair down. A number of people though won’t come and won’t say why. Just as there are staff members who never spend time in the staffroom, citing noise, gossip and disruption to their thought processes, we need to consider rather than challenge this mindset. Teaching remember is an ‘act’ at times, and the ‘self’ we present in the classroom or assembly may not be our ‘social self’.

How do we define ‘sociable’? Many of us might wince at the idea of a night out with the whole staff, especially in a big school, whilst for others it is the highlight of their social calendar and an event they have looked forward to for weeks. Some would rather spend an evening with their partner, particularly if both are in the teaching profession, which is not uncommon. Staff who find social occasions challenging may find the noise and close proximity of others on a night out too much to bear. Your teachers and other team members cannot be forced to be ‘sociable’. A suggestion that not attending such an occasion should be challenged is something in itself which should be questioned.

We have gathered, through observation, experience and listening to others, a range of experiences which have impacted on staff. We would welcome your additions.

Drink inevitably features high on our list. Whereas some have ‘hollow legs’ for others a glass or two is enough to loosen the tongue, perhaps with negative consequences. We have heard a few tales of verbal abuse after a few rounds of ‘shots’. Too strong to repeat here! Often this isn’t acted on by SLT as it was ‘out of school’ but in other establishments you may be regarded as being ‘on duty’ and subject to disciplinary action. What is the impact on the recipient of such words though?

Choosing to attend a cricket club social rather than an end of year event, unwittingly ending up in a restaurant two doors down from the staff meal, one colleague reported several staff drunkenly hammering on the windows causing embarrassment to himself and his teammates. This person was bullied for some weeks after the event resulting in intervention by the Head to stop it. The decision to spend time on the life side of work life balance was used as a stick to beat him with.

Staff nights out also need to be just for staff. We have heard of former staff members being invited; great if they were popular, but how about if they were divisive?

The decision to miss out on such events is often determined by wishing to avoid such antics. What is hilarious to some is an embarrassment to others.

Staffroom politics can also impact on some nights out. If the SLT choose to sit at one end of the table and appear to be discussing staff and their behaviour, it is hardly conducive to great social interaction. If you are a member of SLT reading this who has done just this, yes- your body language, facial expressions and apparent whispering does not go unnoticed. Nor should we see teachers on one table and TAs on another. If you are a genuine team then mingle. Having said this, allocated seating is also a cause of discomfort and argument for some.

One specific example to share, in a school which had a mentality of ‘us and them’ largely due to the manner in which Teaching Assistants were regarded by SLT, a teacher with a round numbered birthday organised a night out as much as a team building exercise as well as a celebration, only to find the event boycotted by half the staff. Not this teacher’s fault, but consider how this would impact on your wellbeing if this was you affected.

The use of social media too, particularly Facebook, is another reason why the night out may be avoided. If the event is photographed and just one person does not have the appropriate settings then the news will potentially go beyond the intended circle. A film of one young teacher, several weeks after the event, reached the tabloid press with the inevitable reaction resulting from it. Boasts of drinking games, pictures of bleary eyes and sometimes of ‘interesting’ gifts, if picked up by parents or students has the potential to embarrass or worse. There are some people who simply do not want to be associated with this and will absent themselves from the occasion.

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Staff nights out can be matters of contention in any workplace, not just in schools. Group dynamics, the impact of alcohol, inappropriate language and behaviour will occur on nights out for accountants, lawyers and office staff too. Nobody will say ‘Don’t have a good time’; just consider others.

It is also worth considering that some teachers don’t want to go on a night out where all the conversation is about school. We can think of only one thing more tedious than teachers spending a night out debating education and that is drunk teachers debating education.

Working as a team is essential to staff wellbeing and some schools are embarking upon some amazing work to support their people within their setting. Social occasions can be a great way of building team spirit further, but please remember they aren’t for everyone because of their preferences, experiences or personality. If someone isn’t there on your big night, it isn’t personal, they aren’t any less of a team player; maybe it is just not for them.

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