Let support staff shine

14th April 2000 at 01:00
A whole-school approach is needed to tackle morale. Non-teaching staff have feelings too, says Shirley Rose.

AS pressures on schools mount, it's little wonder the workers at the bottom of the ladder - the support staff and lunchtime supervisors - are neglected. The result can be a cycle of low self-esteem, bitterness and an "us and them" mentality.

A whole-school approach to sustaining self-esteem is one solution. Schools need structures and procedures to help everyone to be empowered and feel valued.

I have been training lunchtime supervisors in London primary schools for more than three years. Insufficient communication is often at the top of their list of frustrations.

Recently, a group of women were exasperated when they were the only ones not wearing jeans on a fund-raising Jeans for Genes day. "It is not unusual to learn from the children that a teacher is leaving or that the

playground rules have changed," said one.

They are often unaware of children's disabilities, health difficulties, and family crises. One woman told me: "I couldn't understand why a child kept ignoring me until another child told me she is deaf."

One supervisor asked a seven-year-old child why he was looking so sad. The child informed her his father had committed

suicide, some weeks earlier.

It is surprising how often playground behaviour is barely mentioned in school policies and how decisions about playground rules and equipment are made without consultation.

Exclusion from discussion about appropriate physical contact with children results in

further unease.

"You try breaking up fights without touching, or refuse to cuddle a distressed child. We just don't know what is allowed."

Supervisors, understandably, conclude that they don't matter. But they are wrong. They matter greatly. They have an important socialising role during an unstructured time of the day. An unhappy lunchtime has effects on the rest of the day.

We all know how difficult and timeconsuming it can be to consult and to pass on information. But why not make sure they all get the staff newsletter? Information should be placed where it is accessible, which may not be the staffroom, where many support staff fear to tread. Some of the excellent practices I have observed include regular staff meetings, structured hand-overs, and carefully-developed systems for effective communication.

Schools might also ask if their lunchtime supervisors have a chance to advance their careers by working in the classroom or contributing in some other way.

It would also help them to feel included if their photographs were posted on the wall alongside the staff and class pictures and if they were included in assembly.

Psychologists speak of the importance of the workplace: it meets some of our social needs. Perhaps if there were a space for lunchtime supervisors to meet and talk, there would be less ""unacceptable standing around and chatting" in the playground.

To work effectively, they need knowledge and skills in a wide range of child-related issues: communicating with children and managing behaviour, working in a multicultural environment, first aid, play, eating, child

protection, and bullying.

They have low expectations of receiving induction, feedback or training. On occasions their resourcefulness, wisdom and commitment impress me. At other times, I am depressed by the way their frustration and helplessness are expressed by shrieking at children. Training helps people to feel they are being taken seriously and that they do matter.

We are told that people with high self-esteem are more likely to co-operate, care for others, develop their potential, cope with pressure, and achieve. Developing a whole-school model of

sustaining self-esteem may

initially be time-consuming and expensive, but the rewards would be many.

Shirley Rose is a freelance trainer. She can be contacted on Tel: 0208 886-2161; email: Shirley@crorose.freeserve.co.uk

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