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"The Breaking of Bread" - Creating Staff Cohesion in a School Mathematics Department

by Richard D Boyce

posted in Reference and Education

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By its very nature, teaching is a stressful career. A teacher needs to deal with, relate to and work with twenty to thirty different individuals every hour of his/her professional life in the classroom. At the end of the day he/she is often too stressed out to cope adequately with a staff meeting. So, in my Mathematics department, I decided to have as fewer staff meetings as I could possibly survive with and replace them with a more informal weekly morning tea. I called this morning tea "The Breaking of Bread".
"The Breaking of Bread" was designed to create a social as well as a professional bond between my staff. We did this in a number of ways.
At the beginning of the first term, usually in our Student Free Days, there would be a welcome back and a welcome to school morning tea foe all teachers of Mathematics. Here the new staff members were introduced and welcomed. I made sure I was involved with the catering for this morning tea. I would inform the staff of my goals for the year and any other important news that I thought should be made known.
Secondly, a similar morning tea was held to start each term.
Thirdly, each week, on a fixed morning, there would be a staff morning tea in the Maths staff room for all Maths staff. Catering was organised on a roster basis by our social coordinator. Each staff member was to organise that they were not on playground duty during that time. I made known to the deputy principal responsible for playground duty of my desire to have all my staff available to be involved in the morning teas.
The deputy principals were always responsive to my request. This gathering became a 'pseudo' staff meeting where I gave out information and sought advice on current issues in an informal environment. People unable to attend were kept informed by me usually personally or by memo. The staff accepted these informal meetings well. It created a lesser need for formal after school Maths staff meetings.
One of the Deputy Principals was our liaison person to the administration I. e. The functioning of the Mathematics department was one of their responsibilities. That person was always welcome at our morning teas. It became our informal way of providing feedback on many issues to the administration team in the school.
Lastly, during the final days of term four (Semester Two), when only our junior school classes were still with us, I would organise a longer time for our last morning tea of the year. The administration team would be invited. This was our time to farewell those staff leaving us. It was a time for me to thank my staff for their help and advice during the year.
I would make a presentation of 'Tongue in Cheek' awards to every member of staff to thank them for something special they did for me or the department or a funny 'faux pas'.
Our teacher aide and anyone else who helped our department were always part of each of these gatherings.
Not only were these gatherings successful in a social and professional sense, they were successful in providing us with many different taste sensations. That, in itself, was a high point. Rarely, did a teacher absent themselves deliberately from these gatherings. That, to me, was their measure of success.
About the Author: Our author, as a result of his role as Head of Mathematics over 15 years, has written a series of eBooks designed to help newly appointed Heads of Curriculum start their careers on a high note. This article is but a small part of one such eBook. All these eBooks have recently been included in, "The HOD Compendium". It is available on the website
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