Why we must all find 'moments of joy' in the pandemic

The simple act of giving doughnuts to school staff is a powerful expression of gratitude and togetherness, says Liz Free

Liz Free

Covid: Why giving doughnuts to teachers and school staff is a powerful moment of joy, gratitude and togetherness

It’s been over a year. We are still teaching through a global pandemic. Our school staff are tired. A question hit me: Is this the moment for doughnuts?

I like them sugary, chocolatey and gooey with crispness on the outside. I recently stood in the local doughnut shop, socially distanced and mask-donned, considering what the staff preferences would be.

After considerable internal dialogue, I went for hardcore chocolate with chocolate filling, light and airy berry goodness and zebra chocolate topping.

Teacher wellbeing: A doughnut-shaped thank you

For me doughnuts represent a little joy. Of course, we can’t eat together in the staffroom but I thought a takeaway doughnut could be a little nod to each member of staff. A little thank you and a slither of sugary lightness.

This gesture and the moment it created was intended to bring some connection, happiness and an unexpected treat at the end of a long week, month and term.

But, is it really OK to fill a staffroom with sugary doughnut goodness? I know the debates and the fact that it isn't the most healthy snack, but sometimes isn't it the thought that matters? The power of moments and an unexpected thank you in the shape of a doughnut.

Certainly, as staff went in to get a doughnut (wearing a mask, maximum five in the room at a time), I heard laughter and chatter as they connected and reconnected over a little unexpected treat.

I soon had emails of thank you and felt a liveliness throughout the corridors. Was it the sugar rush? Did it really make a difference or was this a gratuitous and unhealthy moment, a sugary sticking plaster?

Moments of joy

I have been thinking a lot lately about school improvement, driving change and pace.

It would be easier to stay stuck in the depths of pandemic coping mode, to keep our heads down and our classroom doors closed, than to look to a future that many of us cannot see.

The future right now has been rocked and is uncertain; more uncertain than perhaps our generations have ever known. There is a risk that we become stuck in the inertia of this pandemic era, and our schools stagnate.

As school leaders, we need to engineer these moments of connection in a period of disconnection. The mere humble, but tasty, doughnut represented for me the light, a little hope in the midst of coping that gave us all a pause, a moment to saviour. It was a joyful moment, pulling us together. 

Lead from the front, eat last

Simon Sinek wrote a whole book about how leaders eat last. In this book – Leaders Eat Last, tag lined "Why some teams pull together and others don’t" – he says: "The natural human inclination is to come together, combine our talents, seize the opportunities and attack the danger."

I think community and team are critical for us to attack the danger of isolation and stagnation in our schools. We need to prioritise authentically the connection of our staff, our teams.

My plan of attack is to ensure that we are combining our talents and seizing the opportunities before us. I will find gentle opportunities to bring our staff together.

The doughnut may not be the healthiest option out there, but it is far healthier for us all to physically and metaphorically see each other. Leaders may well eat last but firstly they need to ensure that the food is on the table for all.

Let’s start a global campaign to stay connected and eat doughnuts! #TeachersEatDoughnuts

Liz Free is CEO and director at International School Rheintal (ISR), Switzerland, an IB World School.

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