What if we hit each other with pool noodles?
It seemed like a sensible question.
A few weeks back a couple of my teachers got to talking about morale. It ebbs and flows at every school, even the best of them, as the demands of the day pile up and the pressures of making a difference in a job that matters so much grow and grow until very good people find themselves sleeping too little, eating too much, and not taking time for themselves.
The educators I know sometimes need to be reminded to give to themselves as much as they give to their students. They need to be encouraged to breathe and relax, go for a walk, laugh at something silly. Play.
So these intrepid teachers fell into conversation about what we could do at work to make our professional lives …happier.
They weren’t talking about a swelling soundtrack and larger than life event, just adding more of a sense of fun to what we do.
And then, like angels, or middle school teachers (and I believe the terms are very often interchangeable), they did something about it.
It started with crumpled paper, a couple of books, and a trash can. Making a game of it, they got together to bat a ball of paper back and forth, racing another team of hastily gathered teachers, to see who could get the paper in the can first. No double hitting! No catching the ball! Rules piled up to add a little challenge to the game.
And they laughed.
Later that afternoon they came into my office with a suggestion I couldn’t refuse.
After school a week later the empty halls echoed with the laughter of teachers playing. Our staff meeting paused long enough for us to break into teams, choose our own books, and get to slapping a ball of paper back and forth as we rushed toward garbage cans and victory.
Being the amazing organizers they are, those angels/middle school teachers ended the meeting with a chart inviting departments to sign up on to do “something fun.”
Since then we’ve had a salsa contest during a staff meeting and a chocolate tasting extravaganza that ran all day. One morning our counselors turned their office into a coffeehouse.
The day arrived when our staff gathered in the theater, the lights dimmed, and the words appeared on the screen: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away…” Cue music (we did). Roll yellow words (we did). Welcome the staff to a day of lightsaber duels (heck, yeah).
We called teachers to the stage by random numbers, three at a time, each handed a pool noodle decorated to look like a lightsaber. They positioned themselves within small squares of blue tape situated onstage in front of the screen displaying scenes from Star Wars movies, sized up the opposition, and on the count of three-two-one started whapping each other.
The goal was to stay in the blue squares. Some did.
And on the way they laughed. The audience cheered, chomping on red vines as if they were watching a summer blockbuster, seeing their colleagues, now intrepid Jedi, wailing away.
After the first round we brought in double sided lightsabers and let them have at it again.
At the end of the afternoon, just fifteen minutes out of a busy day, applause.
The staff took time to appreciate our receptionist and my secretary, who had put so much effort into the event, and whose Princess Leia hair buns were one of the stars of the show.
They left smiling.
Those last three words matter so much. In a profession that can be taxing (important, life changing, rewarding, but difficult) to create opportunities for the adults who work with students to play, to laugh, to connect is vital to the health of a school.
To care for our schools we must care for our teachers.
This means many things: Teacher Appreciation Week, thank you notes, lunches provided by the parent organization, and more. It also means opportunities to be silly.
Morale will ebb and flow, that’s the world we live in, and it’s also the challenge we’re given to face those emotional highs and lows by supporting one another, taking the time to be kind, and doing our best to see the best in ourselves and each other.
…and sometimes it’s fun just to whap fellow Jedi with pool noodles.