Teacher Tips: How to Take Breaks & Connect Even if Your Staff Lounge is Super Negative

podcast Sep 19, 2023

Supporting Teacher Well-Being and Teacher Mental Health Through Connections

Let's tackle an issue that often lurks in the background but seldom gets the attention it deserves: the isolating aspect of teaching.

It's a little paradoxical, isn't it? We're surrounded by dozens of energetic youngsters every day and yet it can feel very isolating unless we make the conscious effort to seek connections with other adults on campus.

Rewarding social connections play a critical role in improved mental and emotional health as well as reducing overall stress. According to the research on "blue zones" (the areas in the world where people live the longest), maintaining social connections is integral to longevity.

Yet, with all the hustle and bustle of our teaching lives, we find ourselves caught in a cycle of working through lunch, barely having time to breathe. We juggle meetings, lesson preparations, and spontaneous crises that pop up unannounced. The staff lounge, which should be a haven of camaraderie and relaxation, sometimes turns into a breeding ground for negativity and stress. It's no wonder that many of us prefer the solitude of our classrooms during lunchtime. How can we break free from this harmful habit?

Additional Benefits of "Taking A Break" for Educators

As listed above, there are important reasons for maintaining social connections at school. But above and beyond the connections, it's important to take a few sacred minutes a day to rest and reset so that we can ultimately be more productive, creative, and ward off teacher burnout. So giving ourselves that much-needed break isn't just a luxury; it's a necessity backed by science. Taking a breather not only replenishes our mental energy but also sparks creativity and problem-solving skills. Remember, quality is important, not quantity. Even a ten minute break can refresh us, whereas consistently working without a break leads to cognitive fatigue and resentment.

Ideas for Getting You Out of Your Classroom and into the Staff Lounge

While visiting the staff lounge every day may not be feasible, set a goal to eat and visit with your colleagues at least once or twice a week. Enlist your teacher best friend to keep you accountable! Here are some ideas to make the staff lounge more inviting:

Friendship Fridays Encourage everyone campus wide to come to the staff lounge on Fridays. If you're an administrator, maybe provide some cookies or chips on a Friday as an extra incentive. I would avoid a system where teachers sign up to host lunches throughout the year. First, that can get pretty stressful and expensive. Additionally, anyone with any kind of food restrictions will not find it inviting (you know the default food will usually end up being pizza, tacos or sandwiches).

Staff Picnics If you have a lawn area or an are with benches away from the student yard, encourage a quarterly staff picnic over lunch. Again, everyone can bring their own food, but there's something so fun about being outside and on a blanket.

Decompression Area Set up art supplies, a giant coloring poster or quick puzzles and games in an area of the staff lounge to encourage teachers to completely decompress for a few minutes and not talk, think (or complain) about students, parents or school duties.

Staff Wellness Challenge Set up some friendly competition and fun with a 30 day staff wellness challenge. If you go to this link it will lead you to a free version of a challenge I have in my TpT store.

How to Deal with Negative Co-Workers Who Dominate the Staff Lounge

Oh, those chronic complainers! In last week's blog post/podcast episode, I did a deep dive into how to protect our peace from toxically negative colleagues. Not teachers who are having a bad day (it happens to the best of us!) but teachers who have a consistently bad attitude and never have anything positive to say about students, parents or administrators. So what happens when these teachers dominate the staff room, and scare the rest of us off?

Well, you could try a couple of things.

Set a Good Example

Set up a Positivity Parking Lot or something similar - a place where teachers and school support staff can post positive notes about students or each other.

Make Some Staff Room "Norms"

Have administrators post some norms in the staff lounge (rules for engagement). They could include:

1. Maintaining student and parent confidentiality (i.e. not talking about them!)

2. Only giving advice if it is asked for 😁

3. Passing all conversations through the following filter : Is it true? Is it fair? Does it foster goodwill and better relationships? (There are plenty of posters available to this effect)

Be a Hero - Set a Boundary!

If it's just one person who is chasing everybody off,  then you could try setting a boundary right. What do you have to lose? Probably other people around you will be mightily relieved that you had the courage to give it a try, even if you are not immediately successful.

Let me remind you of boundary basics. To avoid making people defensive use  what I call" language. For example, don't say, " You're always complaining!"  The discussion needs to be about your needs, preferences and desires. So, for example, you could say

"Hey, you know what? My brain and my nervous system just really need a break from discussing students and parents right now. Can we change the subject?"

"I look forward into coming into the break room to fun, relax and I love seeing you. If you need advice on how to deal with a student, can we set a timer for five minutes and all help you with problem solving and suggestions and then we go back to talking about what we're loving on Netflix or something outside of school?"

What you might to find is that person may say,  "Oh, I didn't need advice." Maybe they're even just going get the hint and acknowledge they were just complaining.

If you've set a boundary and they still complain even after you try deflecting and changing the conversation, they you will just need to set up a routine to stay in your classroom with your teacher bestie during lunch, take a walk , or do the wellness challenge together.

On Those Days That You Just Need Time to Yourself

Legitimately, there will be days that you want to totally decompress and not be around people. Even if you have to hide in the dark or go in your car to be undisturbed, find something that helps you relax for a few minutes. Maybe you create a special playlist for your phone, or download a brief guided meditation. Maybe you watch that short Youtube video that always makes you laugh. Just find anything that will help you distract yourself and "reboot" for a few minutes.

Conclusion: Teacher Well-Being Matters!

In conclusion, remember that your well-being matters just as much as your students'. Let's break the cycle of isolation and rediscover the joy that comes from connecting with fellow adults who share our journey. After all, teaching isn't just a job; it's a community of passionate individuals united by a common purpose.

Even if you go it solo, why try the FREE WELLNESS CHALLENGE for TEACHERS? Click Here to download it now.

Additional Resources Mentioned in This Blog Post

How to Deal with Toxically Negative Co-Workers

Free Wellness Challenge for Teachers

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