Overpowering the staff room garlics…

By Sue Keenan, Head of Teaching and Learning at Myerscough College.

Tofu or garlic - the choice to become either is within us!
Tofu or not tofu, that is the question?
Cartoon by Vicky Butterby, PD North

A long time ago, I was on a training course about preparing to work overseas in a new culture. One question posed was ‘are you going to be a garlic or a tofu?’ . The definition of a garlic was someone who went with the attitude that they knew best, their way was best and that things should be done their way. In other words, infusing  and overpowering everything with their strong garlicky flavour so that other flavours were obliterated. In contrast the tofu was someone who absorbed the range of favours around them. A tofu was a person who learned about the new culture and soaked it all up,recognising that they needed to change their world view.

It’s a metaphor that’s stayed with me and can be applied at times to our culture in education. I’ve worked in many staff rooms and offices over my career where there can be a couple of garlics….these are the people that constantly permeate the space with negativity. They moan about the leaders and managers, the learners, teaching, the job….for whatever reason they aren’t positive about the job anymore. I get the challenges. We are in a time of deep cuts in funding in the FE sector. We don’t feel confident about job security.We work hard teaching, marking, planning and preparing.

The garlics in education can be very toxic. They can suck the enthusiasm out of teachers who have come into work feeling positive, they can have a huge impact on staff morale and organisational culture.

That’s why it’s really important to surround yourself at work with the positive sunny people, the ones that love teaching, the ones that get a real buzz from seeing their learners achieve. If we go into lessons feeling negative then this will have a huge impact on how are learners feel and what they achieve. And after all, the learners are the reason we’re all working in education, aren’t they?

We can all be a little bit garlic sometimes, we might not agree with a decision made at a higher level, we might just be a bit fed up, but we need to manage our own behaviour as professionals and keep our outlook positive. We need to recognise if we are becoming a little bit toxic….

Surround yourself at work with the sunny people, the ones who come into work with a smile on their face. The ones who are new to the job and are excited to do it. The ones who have been teaching for a long time and still enjoy it. Lots of sunny people together have great power to do great things in education. They determine the culture of an organisation far more than senior leaders do.

In these tough times, try to keep your outlook and attitude as a teacher sunny side up.Have fun at work and enjoy the job. Have positive impact on those around you. Together lets try to support  those pungent garlics and turn them into tofu, soaking up the sunshine and positivity around them.