Let me get this out of the way first: kids are the reason schools exist. They’re why teachers teach, administrators administrate, and bus drivers drive buses. Lots of grown-ups get paychecks (and despite what some folks seem to think, there’s no shame in that) because kids are important. Students are worth every bit of the energy and resources we spend on them; worth more, I would argue, than we give them right now—that’s a blog post, or a book, in itself.
But. If the grown-ups who work in schools aren’t passionate, motivated, and excited about learning, then how can we expect kids to be? Considering that school employees are consistently overwhelmed with red tape, paperwork, testing, and evaluations that suck away time and creative juices, and that the news is full of vitriolic reports blaming teachers for problems they rarely have any control over, passion isn’t always easy to come by.
Still, against the odds, most school employees stay positive. How do we manage that? Well, one trend I’ve noticed in my school, and I’m sure it’s happening elsewhere, is staff members using their abilities to serve not only students, but fellow employees. I’m not talking about professional development here; as a librarian, I’m all for meaningful PD, but tech trainings, conferences, and even reading articles and blogs can be draining, too. I’m referring to more personal kinds of support.
One of our physical education teachers, Cecelia, is a case in point. Cecelia has created support and discussion groups, both “live” and via email, for staff interested in following healthier diets. She’s also offered free after-school exercise classes. Our school nurse, Linda, is also committed to the health of staff members. She makes it clear that adults are as welcome as kids in her office; she administers blood pressure checks on request, and is always happy to provide whatever first aid or advice we need. Sue, our school secretary, goes above and beyond using her organizational skills to ensure employee needs are met—including coordinating and even delivering meals for staff who are ill. Griffin, a life skills teacher, literally feeds the grown-ups every payday. For a mere dollar, you can get coffee AND a muffin prepared by and delivered to your room by his smiling students. Beth, a social studies teacher, started a “caring” email chain so we know who needs a sympathy card and a hug, and who is adopting one baby and giving birth to another in the space of three months (true story; it’s happening to one of our teachers). Our principal, John, allows dress-down days on occasion, sometimes in support of staff members’ favorite charities. Patrick, another social studies teacher, plans after-school get-togethers on Fridays that everyone is welcome to join. Stephanie, a former special education teacher who now spreads sunshine at an elementary school in our district, organizes food and snack deliveries on special days so employees can enjoy treats like soft pretzels and chocolate milkshakes during the day. (Stephanie, if you’re reading this, I really miss those milkshakes!) Note that ALL of these examples are instances of support and caring that are available to every member of the staff. Not just teachers. Not just someone’s particular group of friends. Everyone.
There’s so many other people who do other things I could have mentioned, but you get the general idea. Is our school perfect? Let me assure you, we are far from it–maybe not as far as New York City is from Sydney, but farther than we’d like. It’s a tough time in education right now, and many of us have days when we feel put-upon, exhausted, slighted, and misunderstood. We get grumpy. We whine. We wish we were somewhere else (like on a beach.) But then it’s dress-down day, and proud life-skills students are strolling through the hallways delivering muffins and coffee. Suddenly, there’s a burst of energy that’s not coming from the caffeine.
Grown-ups who feel nurtured and cared for, who believe that school is a place where they are valued and trusted, are grown-ups who can offer students the benefits of a vibrant learning environment. And when the outside world isn’t doing that for us, sometimes we can do it for each other.
(Part II of this post will focus on the ways my job as a school librarian allows me to serve the school’s grown-ups.)