Sadly, we have all learned over time that negativity is contagious. Teachers justify their negative lounge talk as venting or releasing stress. However, psychologically, this negative talk has an impact on others and actually raises the stress levels of the entire faculty.
As an administrator of 18 years, and now a professor of education, I became intolerant of negative lounge talk. During my first few years, I observed teachers talking negatively about their colleagues, about their students and the families they serve, and even their own family members. The lounge has been used to share worst-case scenarios and to pass on warnings about families or students. Some teachers use the lounge to garner support for perceived slights by administrators or school board members. Some individuals are simply addicted to drama. Misery loves company, and it is easy for teachers to get wrapped up in others’ concerns. What good does this do? Absolutely none. In fact, nothing good is accomplished by a “pit” that is frequented by lounge lizards.
If you believe your school has a problem and you want to help cleanse your lounge of negativity, you may find the following strategies helpful:
- Create a lounge that is welcoming and comforting. A clean, well-lit, positive, professional setting is conducive to positive thinking and feelings of appreciation. Posters, positive notes from the administrator, and periodic snacks are appreciated by all. Enlist your PTA to fund furniture purchases and décor. Make your lounge a place of celebration.
- Appeal to your entire faculty during faculty meetings. Some behavior that is observed in lounges is behavior that education professionals would not tolerate if they saw students doing it. Ask that teachers be role models at all times.
- Focus on positivity to raise morale. A “colleague compliment” poster enables others to share the positive work of others. Having Secret Pals throughout the year provides opportunities for support. If the messages are authentic, others will appreciate this and catch on.
- Remind teachers they are consistently mentoring others, especially student teachers and substitute teachers. Professionalism is visible at all times.
- Also, share with them that the lounge is never a place to seek counseling. Let teachers know that if they are having marital or other family difficulties, the lounge is not the place to discuss such personal information. Information that you share in a lounge stays permanently in the minds of those who heard it, even when you mend the relationships you have talked about.
- As an administrator, do not hesitate to address concerns brought to your attention. It is reasonable and ethical to let a teacher know if he or she has overstepped the boundaries of professionalism with negativity, gossip, or personal “over-sharing.”
As a professor, I emphasize “professionalism vs. being a lounge lizard” in my teacher education classes. Hopefully, those of us at the college level are helping contribute to the professionalism of future teachers. Most teachers have love and passion in their hearts. Do not let this become negative. It is clear evidence of the culture in your school, and it is up to you to assure it is positive.
By Teresa VanDover, Ed.D.