Staff lounges often have a reputation as being places of toxic negativity. Too often, they are perceived as places filled with constant complaints, unending negativity, and pervasive cynicism. In fact, new teachers are frequently advised to avoid the staff lounge as much as they can.
Yet, staff lounges often play important roles in the life of a school. They may be where copy machines are located, paper cutters and punches and other equipment are available, and other frequently used materials are stored. Lounges often house staff mailboxes. They also may be the place where staff are expected to have lunch. Consequently, they cannot always be avoided.
Fortunately, staff lounges do not have to be negative, energy-sapping places. Of course, we cannot mandate positivity, nor should every conversation be upbeat and optimistic. That is not real life. Still, there are steps we can take to make the teachers’ lounge a place to relax, reflect, converse, and collaborate. We can make them cheerful, attractive, warm, and welcoming spaces. Of course, what we can do depends on the availability of resources; what is realistic for one campus or district may not be feasible for another. Consider these six steps as places to start your thinking:
- Design the space as a connection, collaboration, information, and inspiration center. We might designate a wall or bulletin board to post tech tips of the week, education-related cartoons and jokes, staff shoutouts and upcoming birthdays, inspiring or humorous quotes, thank-you notes and news articles, and even idea and strategy postings. Space might be designated to highlight accomplishments of present and former students and updates on staff members. Of course, inspiring artwork can add to the vibe.
- Create a comfortable and inviting space. If funds and resources are available, stock the space with flexible furniture. Small tables of varying sizes can encourage collaboration. High-top tables can add variety. Soft seating can facilitate conversations. Small cubicles can offer privacy and space to think. The image of a coffee shop can help to stimulate imagination. Staff who desire to do so could donate furniture and items of good quality to this cause.
- Add stress-reducing surroundings. Live plants that are easy to maintain can bring nature inside and add color and beauty. Also, consider installing a live fish tank if it can be maintained. Fish tanks are often placed in physicians’ offices and other high-stress places as they have been shown to be especially effective in calming emotions and reducing stress.
- Craft a comfortable context. Where possible, shift lighting from overhead florescent lights to lamps, indirect lighting, and other more inviting sources of illumination. Add a new coat of paint that reflects the desired environment; a blend of calming and energizing colors can help, depending on the amount and configuration of the space. Creating a wall mural can add interest and variety. This could also be a worthwhile project for art students, which would add to the sense of community and culture as well.
- Schedule regular social events. Consider themed days and weeks, holiday celebrations, and birthdays for potluck breakfasts and lunches. Morning pastries or healthy snacks and end-of-day “grab-and-go” beverages can build feelings of connectedness, belonging, caring, and appreciation. However, these gatherings need to be regular and frequent to have an impact. Weekly activities are optimal, but monthly events can still make a difference.
- Commit to an environment of care, encouragement, and support. Encourage actions that are constructive and collaborative. The shared development and posting of norms can help to communicate expectations and guide behavior. Here are some norms to consider:
- If I see a problem, I will take responsibility to seek a solution.
- If I have a complaint, I will share it with someone who can do something.
- If someone is struggling, I will be ready to listen.
- If someone needs help, I will pitch in.
- If I need help, I will ask for assistance.
Staff lounges do not have to be places to avoid. In fact, they can become the heart of the school. They can be a place we go for support, encouragement, celebration, and rest. However, creating and maintaining the environment we seek requires clarity, commitment, and cooperation. Totally doable!