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Paynesville Press - October 10, 2001

School staff urged to make work fun

By Michael Jacobson

Fish bowl Something's fishy at the schools in Paynesville.

Fostering and Improving School Harmony (F.I.S.H.) is a new philosophy that is being stressed to the school staff this year in an effort to improve morale.

"Life Bait" fish bowl in the PAES office offers inspirational messages to staff, students, and visitors.

Staff morale was hurt last year by the budget cuts, the battles at the Minnesota Legislature for education funding, and the impending job losses or duty changes in District #741, said teachers Charlene Strand and Cheryl Bungum. This fall, Strand and Bungum - who both teach in the music department - are addressing improvements to the morale and stressing more positive outlooks as part of their master's course.

The idea for the F.I.S.H. philosophy comes from the world famous Pike's Fish Market in Seattle. Selling fish in a market was neither fun nor prestigious until a new manager tried to add spirit to the job.

Now the market is famous for the witty sales lines, the boisterous yells when sales are made, and the tossing of 30-pound fish. Once a sale is made, the workers grab the fish and throw it headfirst over the counter where another worked catches it and wraps it for the customer to take home.

Tourists come to the market just to watch the fish throwing. So do downtown Seattle office workers on their lunch breaks. And a job that could be treated as a chore was made unique by a change of attitude.

Enjoying work is very important because adults spend 75 percent of their time either at work, thinking about work, getting ready to go to work, or decompressing after work, said Strand and Bungum.

Teachers The F.I.S.H. philosophy, as exemplified by the Pike's Fish Market, has four tenets: play; make their day; be there; and choose your attitude. "If you choose to have a good day something bad can happen and you can choose to not let it bother you,"╩explained Bungum. "If you choose to have a bad day and something bad happens, it gets worse and worse and worse."

Teachers and staff work on F.I.S.H. related craft projects.

Bungum and Strand watched a video about the F.I.S.H. philosophy during their master's course through the University of St. Mary's in Winona. The duo had originally planned to do their master's inquiry on the different kinds of assessments for music, but decided that improving the morale at school was more important. "They urged us to choose something that we were passionate about," explained Bungum.

Their burning question is: How do we bounce back and improve our school climate after suffering the effects of budget cuts, legislative demands and issues, loss of staff, and declining enrollment?

Deciding to pursue a project that would impact the morale in the local school district was easy, they said. "We were feeling low," Bungum said of last year. "We're glad we're doing something that will have a benefit to a lot of people and not just us,"╩she added.

Strand and Bungum showed the video of the Pike's Fish Market to the staff during the inservice training days before school this fall in District #741. They also had the staff do a group activity, and they conducted a morale survey and collected information for a staff-wide trivia contest.

Fifth grade teacher Mary Stock called the three days of workshops this year the most positive she has experienced. "I think people came away from it much more upbeat," she explained. "It was a much better way to start the school year."

The F.I.S.H. philosophy helped get the teaching staff focused on the positives, excited to be in the classrooms, and enthusiastic about education, said Stock. "With the terrorist strike in New York, it's been really good that we've had that positive focus," she added.

"With budget cuts, with staff losses, with medical leaves, I think it's a great way to start the year on a positive note," agreed elementary physical education teacher Bill Virant, who like Stock has helped Strand and Bungum with F.I.S.H. projects.

One benefit has been the effort to get teachers, secretaries, custodians, and administrators to work together and exchange ideas, he added. Educators should embrace "anything we can do to make the whole day brighter," according to Virant. "That's what our job is. That's why we get paid."

Fish on wall To remind the staff about the F.I.S.H. philosophy, Bungum and Strand have initiated a number of fish related activities: F.I.S.H. notes, F.I.S.H. awards, F.I.S.H. buddies, the F.I.S.H. Report, and bowls of "Life" bait. Each staff member, for instance, got a F.I.S.H. notepad. The idea is for them to use a sheet everyday to write a positive message to someone else and make their day.

Fish on the walls are some of the reminders around school.

Strand and Bungum collected a cabinet full of fish items to give as awards to staff members for promoting upbeat attitudes. The custodial staff earned an award for buying lottery tickets together, winning $20, and taking themselves out for a group breakfast with the money.

F.I.S.H. buddies are like Secret Santas, only they will last the entire year. And each of the four main offices - district office, PAES, PAMS, and PAHS - has a fish bowl full of inspirational quotes to help foster positive attitudes in the schools.

"Building the F.I.S.H. philosophy has to come from within," said Strand. "Each person has to buy into it."

Choosing a positive attitude is crucial, especially for teachers since kids in the classroom notice their attitude immediately, said elementary principal Todd Burlingame. "We are their role models," he explained. "Kids can tell right off the bat if you're grumpy or having a bad day."

"Your attitude sets the tone for the entire day," he added. "Sometimes for the entire year."

Strand and Bungum plan to continue the F.I.S.H. philosophy throughout the year, even after their project is due and presented in March.

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