Angels in the staffroom

30th June 2006 at 01:00
Random acts of kindness at one Harrow school have brightened the atmosphere and brought teachers closer Nick Hilborne

Imagine returning to your classroom after an exhausting day to find a bunch of flowers or a homemade cake, left there by a guardian angel.

Minor miracles like these have happened every day to teaching staff at Elmgrove first school in Harrow, north London.

The guardian angel scheme, part of the London Wellbeing Programme, began by staff putting their names into a hat, and picking out the name of a colleague. The angels then had to decide themselves how to improve the happiness of their colleague while keeping their identities secret.

Teaching assistant Mandy Eyles found a bunch of flowers on her desk one morning, with a note saying "from a friend". Later, after a difficult day, she received a note saying that someone was thinking about her, and hoping that tomorrow would be better.

"The staff of a school are really just as important as the children," Mrs Eyles said. "If we are not happy and comfortable, how can we make the children happy?"

Mrs Eyles said that while she was guardian angel to a teacher, she managed to make her cups of tea without revealing her angelic status.

"I would hang around in the staffroom, and ask her casually if she wanted a cup of tea. She never guessed I was her angel. She thought it was somebody else."

Mrs Eyles's own guardian angel turned out to be Fiona Dean, a Year 3 teacher. By good fortune the pair have ended up working together.

"As she was new to the school, and we worked with different year groups and had different break times," Mrs Dean said.

"I might never have got to know to her. As it was we could build on the lovely relationship which began when I was her guardian angel. We are now close friends."

Jane McDonough, wellbeing facilitator at Elmgrove, said a notice board has been put up in the staffroom, with details of yoga lessons, spare theatre tickets, or anything else which might increase the happiness of adults at the school.

Elmgrove first was one of 350 schools involved in London Wellbeing, piloted across the city from 2003 to the end of 2005 and part funded by the Department for Education and Skills.

Worklife Support, which aims to improve the wellbeing of staff in schools, organised the programme. A spokesperson said that one in three heads had said it had helped them retain staff.

"Teachers and other school staff need to feel that their contribution to the school is recognised and valued," she said. "When these needs are met, recruitment is less of a challenge, and schools are far more likely to hold onto their staff."

* nick.hilborne@tes.co.uk

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