Our Staffrooms: Reclaiming a Sacred Space

There are probably as many kinds of staffrooms as there are schools across the continent. You may be one of the lucky ones with a staffroom that is welcoming, restful and an oasis from the worries of the classroom. However for many educators their school staffroom is not a place they look forward to visiting. For these teachers they experience a very different kind of place: it could be a ghost town, a hazmat site (i.e. toxic), or an annex for extra student tutorials. It could be a room where one staff member holds forth, where people huddle in cliques, or a space dedicated solely to one task, like union meetings.

Depending on the school, reclaiming the physical space of the staffroom may not be currently feasible. Even so, we can still start by symbolically reclaiming the idea that our well-being warrants a dedicated space and time. We can start to look at our Circles of Influence, as Stephen Covey refers to them, and reclaim control over pieces of our lives. These pieces together can add up to some real shifts towards a greater sense of well-being.

The Work

To jump start this process, it is important to get very clear on some fundamentals of our current situation. Here are four first steps:

1. Acknowledge that we spend a lot of our time giving.

Giving feels good. Many of us who are drawn to teaching as a profession are naturally giving people, generous with our time and energy. We might even seek out opportunities at work or at home where we can offer help or guidance. Certainly schools are places where there is never a shortage of people who need us to give them our time and attention. If you are a dedicated teacher, you are spending a lot of your time giving.

2. Recognize the need to balance this with time spent re-energizing.

Being generous with our time, energy and attention is only problematic if we are not also providing ourselves with opportunities to receive energy. What re-energizes us is deeply personal and unique for each of us. What energizes one of us will be an energy drain on another. The important thing is that the activity or undertaking brings you energy. We need to really understand what it is in our lives that brings us energy and recognize how vital these things are in working to balance the energy output in other areas of our lives.

3. Act in accordance with these truths.

Most of us would agree with the above two points. The question then becomes: am I actually living my life in a way that reflects this understanding? Or do I have the attitude that balancing energy is something that is important for others, and that I just can’t make it happen for myself? Living in accordance with these truths may require serious shifts in how you spend your time. For many of us this can be scary or threatening even as it promises us more freedom. What feelings does this bring up in you?

4. Avoid feeling guilty about orienting our lives around our own needs.

This may end up being the most challenging step for many of us. In particular, the part about doing things that re-energize us could challenge certain mental models we have. Many of us find it challenging to admit that we have needs or that we are equally entitled to have our needs met as those around us. One approach to working with these views might be to recognize that not living this way is simply unsustainable. We are not going to be of use to anyone around us if we burn out.

What does this have to do with reclaiming our staffrooms?

Quite frankly, even with the most beautiful and protected spaces in the world, our staffrooms still won’t become places that feed and support us if we don’t deeply value our own well-being. We need to truly believe that we need and deserve these spaces if we are going to be able to return to our students and colleagues with the capacity to give them all we have to offer.

Your Thoughts

What is the current state of your staffroom? What is your take on the idea of reclaiming them as a sacred space? Do you struggle to balance the inflow/outflow of energy or to make your needs a priority?

About the Author

Christopher Lawley

Christopher empowers teachers to live healthier, more balanced and fulfilling lives. His teaching experience includes Grades 2 to 6 in Toronto's inner-city and Grades 7 to 12 at a private school in Tokyo, Japan. He loves yoga, meditation, movies, comic books and spending time with friends. He can be reached at chris@staffroomwellness.com.

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