A crucible for a new culture

The months roll by faster than we can turn the pages on our textbooks. It seems like the new academic year has just begun and it’s already time for the first assessments, with all the tensions and tempers that they can bring. Classes during these periods can be fraught affairs, with children getting anxious about meeting expectations from many quarters, and teachers getting anxious about pretty much the same thing!

But this is a cycle that we have probably got quite used to, and we have most likely also developed our own ways of staying sane, making use of little pockets of calm wherever we can find them.

For many of us, this might be the staff room – that space where we escape to every time the bell rings, to grab that cup of tea and crib in a good natured way about the ways of your wards. It could be a place where you exchange recipes over lunch and share ideas over coffee, where you unwind and re-energize, before the grind begins all over again.

But for some, this room might represent just another source of tension, a place where all manner of power struggles play out, and as much competition and one-upmanship as any corporate institution.

Then again, it could be none of those things, and just a room where you go to store your books and rest for a bit between classes, where you sit quietly and do your corrections or your preparations, with little or no interaction with the others who share the space.

The staff room is often a good barometer of the culture of the school. A friendly and open staff room can be an indicator of an open and friendly school, where cooperation and collaboration trump competition. But it could also become a crucible for a new culture, a space from which change, innovation and excitement spring, where friendships are made and nurtured, where both successes and failures are discussed without judgment.

After all, the school is at heart a social space, one where individuals interact on a variety of levels – peer to peer, teacher to student, learner to guide, employee to management, among others. But it is a unique social space, and is unlike any other institutional space simply because its culture can have so much of an impact on how learning is experienced and delivered. So it bears some thinking about how all the spaces – not just classrooms – are designed, ordered, and experienced. With the cover theme of this issue, we’ve tried to think a little bit in that direction.

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