In defence of the staffroom

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Julian Stanley, CEO, Education Support Partnership

As working life becomes busier and busier, we must all of us find time for a good natter, says Julian Stanley

What’s the difference between nattering and networking?

I ask this question because earlier this month architect Patrik Schumacher presented a paper to the Adam Smith Institute in which he suggested that the answer to the housing crisis in London and much of the country is for people to live in smaller spaces. Especially young people.

In his paper he writes: “For many young professionals who are out and about networking 24/7, a small, clean, private hotel-room-sized central patch serves their needs perfectly well.”

So no need for a living room or lounge. All social interaction is “networking”.

This reminded me of the debate we had back in 2012 when the coalition government removed regulations requiring schools to have staffrooms, leaving it up to headteachers to decide if one was needed.

Of course many schools do still have staffrooms, but some new schools are being built without them, and perhaps even if a school does have a staffroom, teachers may feel pressured into not spending too much time there. The assumption being that if you are in the staffroom you are not working.

Even before Schumacher presented his paper we knew from calls we get to our teacher support helpline that there are teachers living in house and flat shares with no living room.

Some landlords who want to maximise their income regard a lounge as a waste as you can’t charge rent for it.

So it is perfectly possible for some young trainee and new teachers to start their working lives living in spaces without living rooms and then having to go to work in schools which don’t have staffrooms.

So they’re either at work or asleep. That really doesn’t sound very appealing to me. Nor does it seem healthy or good for their wellbeing.

Here we get to the nub of my question. Networking and nattering are not the same thing. We need both because we need to lead balanced lives for our wellbeing.

Teachers need spaces that are casual, unstructured, unorganised. If all your interactions outside work are “networking” then when do you get time off – time to build relationships and make friends, rather than just develop “networking opportunities”?

When you are putting on an act for much of your working day – and to some extent we all put on an act at work – the ability to just flop at certain points and have a good old natter with colleagues is delicious. It is probably something many teachers really look forward to. There are some things only a colleague can understand and it is good to share.

Another reason staffrooms or casual unstructured spaces are needed for teachers is that they can help new teachers and seasoned professionals alike to acquire the skills they need when they do want to network.

If all your working life is structured and run to a timetable, having to face an unstructured event where you are required to “work a room” can be daunting to the point of extreme anxiety.

Teachers can be shy in the same way as people in other professions are shy or lack confidence putting themselves forward. It is fine in front of a classroom because there is a script, there is a format, there are expectations. But at a conference, CPD event or an evening for prospective parents you may well be told to introduce yourself, move around and make contact with strangers. This can be tough if every part of your working life is structured – there is no rehearsal or preparation for this.

Some people do very well in such environments but it is wrong to assume every teacher can thrive and present themselves in the best possible light when expected to interact with strangers.

A staffroom or some form of unstructured space is good preparation for this. It’s why schools retain the break time for students and pupils. So they learn how to mix. It’s an informal but highly necessary side of education.

If we can see the value that free association gives pupils we need to see it for teachers too. Especially so if some of them are living in densely populated areas where a living room is regarded as an unnecessary luxury. Making friends, chatting with colleagues, enjoying other people is not a luxury. It is as essential as eating. For it feeds the soul and nourishes our wellbeing.

I hope the trend towards getting rid of staffrooms at work and lounges at homes is halted. Even the most high-powered, career-driven teachers need to switch off sometimes. Networking is work. Nattering is fun. And we all need fun in our lives. Make sure you get yours.

  • Julian Stanley is CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

Further information

For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk


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