Twitter has been buzzing recently with biscuit-related musings as educators across the land have pondered who should be responsible for supplying the deeply necessary (and well-deserved) staffroom goodies and caffeine fixes.
Some teachers shared stories of overflowing biscuit tins and lavish buffet lunches laid on by senior leadership teams (SLT). One or two even extolled the virtues of a home-baking rota, ensuring that their colleagues were never without a freshly baked muffin or two. (I know, right? Where do I apply?) Others, though, found their cupboards a little barer. A few teachers said they had never had so much as a digestive provided by the school and that it was every man for himself as far as the morning cuppa went.
In general, a staff tea/coffee fund, topped up with a biscuity donation or bowl of fruit every now and then from SLT (or from anyone else for that matter), seems to work quite well.
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Clearly, in these days of squeezed budgets and ever-decreasing resources, keeping the teaching staff in custard creams isn’t likely to be high up the list of priorities for school leaders. And yet, maybe it should be. Because a school that hasn’t prioritised the little things might struggle to get support for the bigger things.
Biscuits and teacher morale
I’m not suggesting that school leaders need to break the bank by laying on a daily banquet for staff, but a school that won’t even stump up for the occasional Wagon Wheel bothers me, and I’ll tell you why: it makes me wonder what else isn’t important.
This all sounds like it is about biscuits, but it's not. It is about creating a culture in a school where people feel valued. When you are feeling low and things are tough, it is important to know that you work somewhere where people will notice, ask how things are and, yes, make you a cuppa with a biscuit and sit you down to have a chat. Busyness can spread through a school like a virus and sometimes we are all so busy being busy that we don’t see when someone really needs our help.
Sorting the staff out with decent coffee and a wee scone every now and again says, “Thanks very much. You are doing a bloody good job and I know it’s not easy.” A school leader who doesn’t see that as an important message to give to staff is on a hiding to nothing.
Working in a school is exhausting as much as it is exhilarating. It is heartbreakingly frustrating at times and it often involves flying solo, dealing with children and young people on your own, in the heat of the moment. Break time in the staffroom is a chance for a debrief and a pit stop. Get the conditions right and staff have a chance to share, relax and regroup. Get it wrong and you nudge people towards resentment, stress and burnout.
The occasional biscuit won’t solve everything – but it can be a pretty good place to start.
Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30