As teachers, we always hear about the “Negative Nellies” and “Debbie Downers” we should avoid in the workroom and teachers’ lounges. These teachers can crush a teacher’s spirit with just one offhanded comment. Being able to escape contact with these teachers can make all the difference in keeping your day tolerable.
If you feel like your school is becoming more and more negative, do not give up hope. This culture can be changed. Where are the teachers who can boost coworkers’ morale? How can you become one of these amazing sources of inspiration?
Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” really speaks to teachers. If you want students to be stronger, happier, more positive, and persistent, you have to be the model for what you want your students to be. Most teachers understand this idea.
However, many teachers forget that this is the same model they should follow with their colleagues. If you feel surrounded by the naysayers in the staff lounge who are talking about “kids these days” and how things are all going downhill, it is easy to get sucked into negative conversations. Yet when these conversations end, teachers feel depleted and uninspired.
You have the power to change this dialogue in your school building, though. You can be a positive light to inspire others. You can truly be the change that turns your school from a negative complaint fest to an uplifting supportive environment.
Sometimes changing school culture appears to be an overwhelming uphill battle. But even incorporating small changes can make a big difference. Any attempt to bring positivity to the school will make you feel better about your environment.
Here are a few ways to encourage a more positive culture:
This seems obvious, but often teachers choose to stay silent. This requires teachers to respond to negativity with positivity. When teachers are complaining about a student, stand up for that student. Or change the subject to ask about fun things going on in people’s lives such as their weekend plans. Shifting the focus encourages a more uplifting conversation. This helps create a stronger, more positive community.
Lift up your colleagues with sincere compliments. Let them know you’re hearing great things about their lessons. Ask them if you can observe them because they are reaching a lot of students in positive ways. Write them a note about how awesome their bulletin board looks this month. Any affirmative comment you make to a coworker can help brighten their day, and it just might inspire them to share a kind word with another colleague.
If your goal is to help make the school environment a better place, tell your principal. You might even find a way to incorporate it in your yearly professional goals. Once your principal knows you are trying to make a positive change, they can support your efforts. They might ask for your opinion or reach out for you to help them. If someone knows your intentions, they will be more apt to jump on the positivity train and not feel so alone in their efforts.
Ask your principal if you can start a committee for positive change. Round up other like-minded colleagues and brainstorm ideas to make your school a better place. By lighting this spark and gathering good energy into one room, people will start to feel better about their workplace. This core group can lead the rest of the staff by posting positive notes, starting incentive programs like Teacher of the Week or Jeans Day Fridays, or making positive statements in the workroom.
Perhaps your principal will treat the staff to a donuts and coffee morning before school one day. Host a lunchtime trivia game or an order-in lunch to change up the routine a bit. Ask teachers to pitch in for a staff potluck during exam time. Organize a holiday party with a white elephant gift exchange. An occasional after-work happy hour might be enjoyed by educators. All of these events can help unite the staff in fun ways.
Often schools need people to perform small tasks and very few teachers, if any, volunteer. Try saying yes every once in a while. Encouraging others from your positive crew to join in can make it even more fun. If the PTO needs someone to call bingo numbers for a fundraiser, make a fun night out of the experience. If your principal needs someone to collect cans for the food drive, offer to give an hour of your time to help the cause. As others see you giving a bit of time, maybe they will consider helping as well.
It can be tough and exhausting to try to change a culture of negativity. When all else fails, try to come up with all of the good things about your school, your career, and your students. Even if your colleagues choose to focus on negative things, you can control your own mental energy. The more you direct it to find the good in things, the happier you will be. While you cannot control what other people say or do, you can feel good knowing that you are doing the best you can to be positive. Your everyday actions will be a model that just might inspire others to get on board with your determination to be the positive change that can make all of the difference.