In my early days in school leadership, I co-led the organisation of a school Open Day. This was no easy task and required significant assistance from many of the support staff in our school. While we put on a very successful event, a discussion with my Principal afterwards brought up a perception from some of the support staff that I did not really appreciate what they did.
That conversation has stuck with me ever since and has ensured that investing in and appreciating support staff is always high on my list of priorities. There are a number of things we can do to ensure that our support staff feel appreciated and valued as being integral to the running of a successful school:
- We cannot say thank you enough; our support staff make our schools tick. Teachers often do not see half of the work our support staff do. At times, the only time they know is when something goes wrong. When everything is running smoothly, we can sometimes forget to think how that happens.
- Support staff are as important as teachers and should not be made to feel like second-class employees. We need to be mindful with our conversations. Our support staff may not get the same conditions and benefits of working in a school as teachers do.
- Most of the support staff that I have encountered are proud of ‘their’ school and want to help. We need to make them feel part of our school community. We should greet the janitor in the same way that we greet the Principal.
- Invite support staff to school celebrations; it is not just about how teachers make things happen for the school and students.
- The support staff in our schools want to be better at what they do. They want to learn new skills and be upskilled, so it is vital that they are not an afterthought when it comes to planning professional development and training; it’s not just about the teachers.
- Model the way in respecting the support staff and ensure that students and parents give them the respect that they deserve. I have come across parents who have been, occasionally, rude to our support staff, We ask that they report it immediately and a senior member of staff will follow-up and ask that an apology be issued.
If we want truly inclusive school communities and a culture where everyone feels respected, then how we treat and develop our support staff must be a key component of the discussion and actions, so that a school can truly thrive as a learning community.