What’s the working environment like at your school? Does everyone feel like they are valued and that their work is important for children, to the school, and to administrators? Or do only a select few teachers work with the principal (I’m referring to that group of “favorites”) and the rest are not included? That creates a toxic environment because people feel left out and then get resentful.
If teachers and speech pathologists don’t feel like they are part of a team, they can feel isolated and disconnected from the school. Once someone starts feeling left out, it’s harder for them to be excited about their job.
Working in a tough school environment can take a toll on teachers, speech therapists, and staff. Sometimes schools need a lift to get through tough times. Even if there isn’t an “us vs. them” feeling at your school, you probably would like to feel appreciated by administrators. I’ve reflected on what administrators have done throughout the years at the schools I’ve been a part of and here are some ideas. Feel free to pass this on to the administration or your social committee:
**Note: these are ideas for small morale boosts for school staff members throughout the school year. However, these will not fix systemic school-wide dysfunctions or district-wide problems.**
- Book club — I worked at a school that chose a book related to education and we all read it for CPDU credit. I enjoyed being part of the group and discussing issues that mattered to my school.
- Zumba or workout classes after school — One of the schools I worked at had a teacher who was really into Zumba teach classes after school in the auditorium.
- Jeans day — Jeans day is the perennial favorite for teachers. If you forbid jeans, don’t underestimate how unpopular that is with staff. By Friday most teachers need to do laundry. Make every Friday a jeans day!
- After-hours social — Organize a monthly after hours social at a local restaurant or bar. Consider offering a free appetizer to encourage people who don’t normally attend after-hours events to come.
- Catered lunches from principal — Yep, if the principal ponies up some money for a free lunch, teachers love it. It’s a no-brainer and it builds goodwill. It doesn’t have to happen that often, but if it happens even once a year, it’s a nice way to show staff they are appreciated.
- Compliments from coworkers — Supporting other coworkers is a great way to build up a team. During a staff meeting, give everyone a slip of paper (I’ve seen “drops” that are meant to fill everyone’s bucket, but heart-shaped would be great too) and ask them to fill it out with compliments for a teacher — and then put them into the teachers’ mailboxes. There’s nothing like getting a sweet compliment on a rough day!
- Bagel breakfasts on Fridays — One Friday a month have administration or every Friday throughout the year (rotate staff), bring in bagels or some kind of breakfast for staff. It’s nice to not have to worry about eating breakfast at home on a Friday morning. People take one Friday each for the entire school year and bring in bagels. When it was my turn, the speech team doubled up and did a build-your-own yogurt parfait station during Better Hearing and Speech Month. Be creative — staff eats it up, literally!
- Super charged social committee — Super charge your social committee if your school’s morale is on the decline by making sure they are doing special things for the teachers at least monthly. Recruit new members! And make sure they collect dues so that you have a budget.
- Secret Santa — Don’t forget to have a secret Santa around Christmas-time — turn it into a fun party and try opening presents in front of the other teachers after school. Try a white elephant party for even more laughs!
- Surprises in the mailboxes — Monthly mailbox treats (like office supplies or candy) and birthday recognition makes staff feel special and remembered.
- Getting t-shirts for the staff — T-shirts for the staff and having designated days to wear them? So fun. I worked for many years at a school that never offered spirit wear and I thought it was kind of sad. Nothing like having the staff all wear the same t-shirts to feel like you are part of something!
- Raffles and giveaways — Monthly raffles for prizes or fun giveaways in the teachers lounge make staff feel like it’s a party everyday at work! Prizes can books, office supplies, kitchen tools, $5 Starbucks giftcards — all are fun little treats!
- School team in community 5K walk — Organizing a team from the school to participate
- Snacks at meetings — Bring snacks to staff meetings. It’s simple and staff love nibbling during meetings.
- Birthday cards — Don’t forget people’s birthdays. A simple card in the mailbox makes a person feel appreciated.
- Potluck lunches from staff — Potluck lunches are just fun. Yes, you do have to make (or buy) something to contribute, but what you get in return is a yummy spread.
- Volunteering at the food bank or food pantry — Organize a Saturday volunteer event for staff to attend to work together and contribute to the community.
- Bring in speakers — At work I’ve heard a former president of ASHA speak (thank you Chicago Public Schools) and I’ve also heard an educational leader speaker in a different school district. I thought it was pretty inspirational and fun to hear speakers through my job!
- Redecorate the teachers’ bathrooms and lounge area — There’s nothing like always having to use a bathroom that has little bitty flies all over the place or peeling paint on the walls. Nothing like a fresh coat of paint and a couple cute accessories to spruce up the common spaces of the school.
- “Superhero of the month” bulletin board — Don’t forget to recognize your staff and their hard work at school by having a bulletin board. And make sure to include not just the “favorites” but those unsung heroes that don’t get featured very frequently.
I know that not every suggestion works at every school, but at the very least I hope that you can find something that you can take away with you to improve your working environment.