Last week on Twitter one of our Headteacher followers posted a picture detailing the ‘New, Improved Staffroom’ containing a list of initiatives and actions aimed at the wellbeing of the whole staff. Fruit teas, a breakfast bar, tidy spaces, photocopier and laminator moved out: all actions which will have a direct impact upon the wellbeing of the staff.
One bullet point raised some discussion on Twitter: the staffroom was to be a ‘no moan zone’ with no complaining about pupils, parents and other staff. Some responses were along the lines of staff having a safe place to let off steam or that having such a zone would be hard to achieve. A single tweet does not of course give the complete context of a school and in this case the context was the staffroom was also used by visitors, including parents.
This tweet got us thinking about the power of positive language: in this case the school is actively promoting staff wellbeing and the stated aim of the Head is to make the staffroom a positive place. Those who discussed and debated the original point were not being negative; rather they may have been reflecting upon their own experiences.
In an ideal world we will have no negativity but of course the world is far from ideal and the very nature of social media makes negativity an easy and instant option.When this negativity begins to invade our staffrooms, we then need to be concerned for the wellbeing of our staff.
Staff may need a safe place to sound off. For some people, their wellbeing is served by the ability to have a grumble. They may not agree with every decision made by SLT and they have the right to express this disagreement. How, when and where this is expressed comes down to school culture. A positive school culture will allow for constructive criticism to be given in a non-judgmental and blame free environment. Senior leaders in such an environment will accept reasoned and polite challenge to their decisions.
A toxic environment, where leaders aren’t willing to listen or where it is staff ‘sound off’ in the staffroom so others can overhear sometimes personal criticism, does not serve anybody’s wellbeing in any way. Leaders need to listen as our good friend Simon Smith tells us here with his usual eloquence. Listening is important; acting upon this, even if it only comes to ‘thank you for your contribution’ is more so.
If we encourage our staff to speak positively to each other then we instantly set the tone, the ethos, that we want wellbeing to be promoted and that if there is be be any criticism, it is valid, polite, non-judgmental and will not undermine the mental wellbeing of our colleagues. Negativity is a drain. Repetitive and constant negativity will undermine confidence. As another friend of ours, Adrian Bethune, clearly states in his new book, available here for every negative interaction with a child there should be at least eight positive ones. Why don’t we repeat the same balance with our colleagues.
Staffrooms can be horrid places in toxic schools; dominated by a small group, ruled by one department, space occupied by the lunchtime markers who are all over the table or with someone repeating conversations ‘upstairs’ so staff are wary of their conduct and in the worst cases teachers scared away from their communal space because of the words and deedsof others.
All staff should be welcome in the staffroom. The positive language you promote will encourage them. If individual staff don’t appear, or if the staffroom is empty, ask yourself why.
It is easy to be negative in our words.Negative words can hurt, can upset and we just can’t see it. They impact upon the mental health in ways that some people don’t understand or appreciate.
That is why we need to keep our language positive, and realistic, to support each other and our whole team in their wellbeing. Accept the odd grumble or too,but let your staff feel safe in doing so. If your ethos is positive, your teachers will be too.