Monday, January 2, 2012

Coffee = Love

No, really. When it comes to school environments, coffee = love. Or at least, coffee = appreciation.

Let me paint a picture for you: It's 7am. You are a teacher. It doesn't really matter what grade level or subject you teach. Last night was rough - four hours of lesson planning and/or grading before bed. Then this morning brought snow, and with it traffic, frustration, and a complete lack of time to eat breakfast if you had any hope of getting to school for the ever-important 7:15 staff meeting. You've just arrived at school, and are desperately in need of sustenance if you are going to make it through the morning. You walk into the staff lounge to check your mail and - oh glorious day! The smell of coffee greets you. You walk over to the cupboard, grab your mug, fill it up with the lovely black brew, and instantly feel a little better. Maybe even a little more capable of facing the million things you know you'll need to do today.

So I'm going to make this very, very simple: A positive staff attitude is invaluable. Coffee machines are cheap.

I hope you're with me when I say that every staff lounge in every school in every district in America can afford one. A good one can be bought for $25 new, and often $10 at second-hand shops. Your school, no matter how tight the budget, can afford a coffee machine.

What about providing the coffee, creamer, and sugar? Have each coffee-drinking staff member pitch in $10 at the beginning of the year, and budget the supplies from that. Alternately, keep an empty coffee can with a slit in the top for people to put in a quarter whenever they take coffee. True, some people will take without giving, but some people will give more than required. It generally evens out. As a third option, have people sign up to bring in supplies - each coffee drinker should only need to provide something once or twice a year, and that's still cheaper than buying it for their own use all the time. Trust me - having seen many staff lounges and talked to many teachers, this seemingly simple and innocent process of caffeinating the overworked and short-on-sleep teachers will make a world of difference in how they face the challenges of each and every day.

And this concept goes far beyond coffee. The first school district I ever worked in had Friday morning breakfasts. At the beginning of the year, a list was posted with the dates for each Friday of the school year, with two blank lines next to each date. Each teacher would sign up for one Friday (or occasionally two). The sign-up list was for providing a basic breakfast to the staff. Generally one of the two teachers for a given date would pick up various juices and a fruit tray while the other would grab bagels, cream cheese, and donuts. Again - no matter how poorly a staff is paid, every teacher should be able to afford bagels and donuts once a year in exchange for breakfasts every Friday.

The best part was that benefits of Friday Breakfasts went well beyond a happier and better nourished staff. They provided a forum where teachers could meet and talk about their students with each other. Young teachers could get advice from older teachers, and older teachers could get new ideas for projects from the younger teachers with more recent course work. Teachers from different grades or different subject areas could collaborate on long-term projects, or themes, or performances.

Best of all, teachers could get to know each other as real people with families and hobbies and interests. The breakfasts often lead to sign up sheets for 5k running groups, knitting clubs, and movie nights, all of which helped the staff to become more to each other than faces in a hallway. The staff at that school was one of the most cohesive and supportive that I have ever had the privilege to work with. I'm sure that this was due to a combination of many factors, but I'm equally certain that Friday Breakfasts were a very important component - and they are both easy and inexpensive to implement. I challenge anyone reading this to try this at their school, or to suggest it to a teacher they know.

So there you have it. Caffeinate and feed your teachers, without spending much, and reap from it happier teachers, better attitudes amongst staff and between grade levels and departments, and greater cohesion and collaboration within your school. How easy is that?

1 comment:

  1. So true. And it's deeper than the availability of a rejuvenating beverage. We humans like to feel nurtured and cared for even at the most basic level, like having coffee (and tea!) to drink when we need it and better yet, being able to count on sharing a Friday breakfast with co-workers. This goes a long way toward a supportive, reciprocal, and cohesive attitude on the job.