At my school, there is a group of grown men and women who giggle and laugh every time they see each other on campus. Sometimes we just laugh and say to one another, “Wait til Monday.”
For the past five years, we’ve had an after school football match for staff. When I first arrived, it was a small group of teachers who had put together a team to play in a local league. They actually called it “training” and the games could be intense. Through the years, it has relaxed a bit, grown and dwindled and grown again. There were days when we played 3 v 3 and there were days we played 15 v 15. At one point we had a few parents join us and, for a while, we allowed high school kids to play. There was even a day when we played with a former player from the US Men’s National Team and a former captain of the Black Stars. But that’s another story.
Overtime, I somehow became known as the commissioner of the “league”. So naturally, I christened the game as LIFA (Lincoln International Football Association), created a crest and email signature, and had stickers printed. Those stickers can now be seen around campus on water bottles, computers and even on a few player’s cars. We have even managed to obtain our own training bibs so that we no longer have to remember random color combinations for our teams each week based on what everyone was wearing. This upgrade eventually led to regular teams and friendly competition.
And since it was dedicated in a small, lunchtime ceremony with representatives from each team, we now have a trophy, aka The Cup. The Cup, put together (literally) by a member of our group, proudly displays our crest and the LIFA slogan, “It’s a friendly game” and sits on the sideline of each Monday afternoon match as a regular crew of twenty plus staff members play, argue over fouls and laugh. We are teachers, coaches, gardners, cleaners, librarians, national service personnel, IT guys, and even an occasional accountant. Expats and local hires, we are all employees of the school, but a group that otherwise, probably would not regularly spend time together.
Even as I write this my phone is constantly buzzing with updates from the WhatsApp group that one member created for us. There are “rumors” that a team is sacking their “coach”. The update comes complete with a doctored image of one of our IT guys behind a fake headline.
Schools regularly talk about building their culture. We play ice breakers to start professional development, have the occasional luncheon, or whole staff event. But at those events, its up to the individuals to decide who they interact with, sit next to, engage in conversation. We tend to gravitate toward the people we know or with whom we think we might have more in common in those situations. In an international school this can create a divide between those who are local hires and expats. In some schools it is a deeper divide than others and it can be difficult to bridge.
But when the ball rolls out onto the field on Monday afternoon, it brings us together. We play hard. We celebrate. We talk trash. We laugh. We have fun. After the games we sit around and talk. Ok, sometimes even during the games we sit around and talk. If I miss a day, the next day several people will ask where I was. I get a text update on the score if I have to leave early, and Tuesdays are for reliving the game, laughing and talking next week’s strategy
There are other programs like this at our school. My wife leads a weekly yoga class, for donations. Those are in turn passed on to local organizations. There’s a group that does cross fit, a Ghanaian studies group, occasional drum circles, regular basketball, volleyball and ultimate frisbee games and even floor hockey this year. These are all organized by staff, for staff and I think their importance is sometimes overlooked. The importance of these relationships goes well beyond the football pitch, the drum circle or the basketball court. When we are happy at work, we are more productive. In a school setting, that means benefits for kids, our top priority. I look forward to Mondays because I love my job, but also because I love these guys and girls that I get to play with on Monday afternoon.
I’m leaving my current school at the end of this year and I’m excited about the opportunity that lies ahead for my family. There are new adventures and wonderful experiences ahead as we explore a new country. But I’m also filled with the mixed emotions of saying goodbyes. The hardest of these goodbyes will be to my LIFA teammates, but they’ve promised to keep me in the WhatsApp group, and we have pipe dreams of an international match one day.
I wonder if they need a commissioner at my next school…
Oh, and my team won the inaugural cup by the way. Just sayin…