Changing Climates -- It's All About Value

Almost a year ago to the day, I sat down with a colleague of mine and we discussed the climate in the building. We noted that very few people appeared to be happy while in our building. Everyone walked around, worrying about their next task, completely self-involved. Staff members rarely spoke to one another other than to complain about a school or district policy, poorly behaved students, or each other. There was a growing culture of mistrust which was completely counterproductive for all involved. Cliques began to form and many people began to feel left out... isolated... on their own. 

The two of us decided that we needed a game plan. A school climate situation as dire as this one needed to be handled one step at a time. 

We began by talking to teachers. We thought that was a logical step. See what the staff needed/wanted/felt. But a couple of different things happened...

1) People didn't want to talk
2) People aired a whole LOAD of grievances that seemed a bit above our pay-grade.

So what did we do?

Together, we needed to develop trust with our colleagues. We needed to let them know that we valued them as teammates and hope to be a support system. But how do you do that? We wanted to put ourselves out there, make ourselves available... we wanted to give everyone a chance to lighten up a little bit, to let loose.

So, we planned a series of activities.

We thought that it would be a great idea to begin by hosting a staff potluck breakfast.

We sent out the first announcement and... it didn't really go over too well. No one seemed interested in signing up! So, we hit the hallways and asked everyone face to face.

A lot of staff members had questions:
  • Do we have to bring data with us?
  • Do we have to need to read something beforehand?
  • Do we have to come?

WHOA WHOA WHOA... Hold up a second! 

We nipped that right in the bud!

  • No, silly gooses (yes, I know it's geese!), of COURSE you don't have to bring data with you! Just... breakfast!
  • No, you don't need to read anything beforehand -- unless, of course, you need a recipe for whatever item you're bringing with you!
  • No, of course not. No one has to come to breakfast, but really... who wouldn't want to kick off a Friday morning with some bacon, eggs, and other delicious goodies?!

The look on people's faces was... unbelievable! I'm not even sure that I can accurately describe it! SO many staff members were just... shocked that there was no hidden agenda.

Just breakfast? Could it be?

It seemed so silly to me at the time, but looking back... with all else that gets thrown our way, I truly do not blame a single one of them for being skeptical.

That first breakfast was pretty incredible. All staff members (with the exception of a handful from 1 or 2 grade levels) attended. We had so much food that we didn't even make a dent!

So many people had an extra skip in their step that Friday and when our Principal approached us and said, "Great job! Everyone is in such a good mood!" we knew that we had been successful!

We decided to keep up with the breakfasts -- they were not all as successful as the first, but they provided an opportunity for people to talk in an informal setting. And, boy oh boy, did everyone need that!

At first, as most of us do, we fell into the same pattern of just talking about school stuff. Then, someone began to ask about a recent trade in the NFL, someone mentioned family visiting, and yet someone else began discussing her newest grandchild. It was no time before we were able to decompress and and you could visibly see people's shoulders relax... smiles widen. It was great! My favorite part, though? Everyone began looking forward to each breakfast! They began counting down days and trying to come up with more extravagant dishes to bring in. It was almost like an outlet for all of that pent up negative energy!

In April, we decided to add a theme -- this month would be baseball teams in honor of the start of the season.
In May, we celebrated our Teacher of the Year nominee.
In June, we hosted a surprise "bridal shower" for a male colleague who was to be married 2 days after school ended.

These breakfasts are nothing revolutionary, but they truly allowed us to place a heavier emphasis on the positives and help us to eliminate all some of that negativity!

Seeing how helpful it was for everyone to have an outlet, I decided that I needed one of my own. So, I began a little project!

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, I sat down at my computer and I thought about each and every one of my teammates. I thought about what I admired about them, ways they had inspired me, lessons I had learned. And I began to type. Within an hour, I had written something about every teacher in grades PK-4 as well as some of the Support Staff and Specialists. I decided to keep it going. I decided to create a little snippet for each member of our staff and tell them why they are so special. It was difficult at times and I was embarrassed that I knew so little about so many people on our team!

When we returned to school, I made point of speaking to each and every colleague before Winter Break and learning something new. I spoke to students, too.

And in December, I put together notes to slip into each mailbox. I made the decision to keep all notes anonymous. While mine were very specific, I have uploaded a pack of compliments with Christmas graphics for your to use. These are a bit more generic, but somehow still feel personal. Check out the sample HERE or click the image below to purchase the full set of 14 different compliments for just $1! Seriously, they're great to attach to teacher gifts, throw in a Christmas card, anything!

I snuck into the office one afternoon, under the guise of needing to send a fax. I quickly slipped the notes into each mailbox and ran upstairs (Please note: I put one in my own mailbox in case anyone wanted to be nosy and try to sleuth out the details).

The best part of the day was when we headed to staff meeting the following afternoon. It was the first time we had all been together, in the same room, since the notes went out. I walked in a few minutes late as I had a parent meeting at the end of the day and people were whispering and my Principal pointed to me and shouted, "IT WAS YOU, WASN'T IT?!"

I am so proud of myself for keeping it together. I pretended like I had no idea what they were talking about.

Apparently, before I got to the meeting, everyone was frantically trying to determine who had sent the letters. They went person by person through the staff and everyone denied it. Someone suggested that since the fonts were "cute" then it must be me because I use "cute" fonts. Someone else insisted that I was hiding from everyone so that I didn't have to admit it.

I feel a teensy weensy bit bad for lying about it, but... the point wasn't for me to receive accolades for being nice. I genuinely wanted everyone to see their worth -- to feel valued. Someone stood up and thanked the "person or persons who acted so kindly". Someone else, wished "that the favor might be returned".

It was clear that things were looking up at our little school.

So really, if you're having a climate issue, take a moment to reflect. Do the people at your school feel valued? How can you help them out? Take a moment to say hello, say thank you.

Just yesterday, I sent an email to our school Psychologist and thanked her for intervening with a child struggling emotionally (the gentle way of saying she was having a massive tantrum) while I was transporting my class from lunch to the classroom. When I saw her later in the afternoon, she had a huge smile on her face and said, "Thank you so much for your email! It's so nice to get thanked!" Seriously! It may sound silly, but...

And, consider purchasing my Christmas Compliment Cards. I whipped them out last week and delivered them to some new teachers and it really helped lift their spirits. If you prefer to make your own, I wholeheartedly support that decision! :)

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