Eat Together, Learn Together

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Should teachers and pupils eat together?

Eating together with pupils – are you mad?

From a teacher wellbeing point of view, some will argue that you need time away from pupils even if you only manage to get a 5 or 10 minute lunch  – you need a break so don’t even think about it!

From a pupil wellbeing perspective, children also need time out from their teachers and need to chat with their mates without a teacher breathing down their neck. But, lunchtime is a social time and a period when the school community should come together instead of going their separate ways. Lunch is a communal event, so eating together makes sense socially and educationally.

Teachers Who Lunch

There is a very strong argument for teachers and pupils eating together because it helps forge better relationships. It’s hard to disagree. Sitting with pupils and sharing a mealtime is a powerful statement and children love it. It makes connections, you get to know each other on different levels and you can observe and monitor children’s behaviour.

Schools vary considerably in how they approach lunchtime. Some teachers eat well away from pupils and declare the hall or school canteen a no go area and off-limits. They like to decompress and eat in splendid isolation or debunk to the staffroom and find a spot to munch and moan. Some are required to supervise their classes during lunch and others will have a teacher table in the eating area. There are other variations.

A Table For Thirty Please!

It’s tempting to get a table for one in your classroom, stuff a couple of sandwiches down and race through some marking and preparation, making a last 5-minute dash for the staffroom to show your face before the afternoon session kicks in – don’t.

I’ve always taken the opportunity to share a mealtime with pupils because you create much stronger bonds with them as individuals. You have different conversations, they are more casual and relaxed and invariably you find out much more about them. It also uncovers their eating behaviours (safeguarding) and you can keep an eye on particular pupils who are not eating enough to sustain themselves. It also helps cut down on a lot of low-level ‘silly’ behaviour on neighbouring tables.

You can talk about what you have been doing in class but that’s talking shop: children like talking about their hobbies, interests, sharing stories, asking you questions, telling jokes and sometimes just being quiet. Sometimes it’s nice for children just to know you are there and that lunchtime isn’t a ‘them and us’ protected zone. Lunchtimes can be noisy, chaotic and stressful for some pupils but the presence of teachers at the dinner table can dramatically change the dynamics and the feel of a lunchtime.

If you do decide to eat with your pupils then make sure to sit with everyone over the course of a few  weeks as the last thing you want is to be accused of is favouritising: keep a track of who you sit with. It is possible to sit with your class though and in Japan they have got this off to a fine art.

Eating From The Same Pot

It’s always fascinating to learn from the cultures of other systems and Japanese schools really do it differently compared to UK schools. They are one of the most clued-in countries in the world when it comes to the school lunch.

In public elementary and junior high schools school lunch (kyuushoku) is provided on a standardized menu, and is eaten in the classroom. Take a look at the following video and it will open your eyes! It’s already had over 15.5 million views!

Source: directed, edited and filmed by Atsuko Satake Quirk, Cafeteria Culture’s media director. Visit


Can you imagine a system in the UK where pupils bow to their teachers and thank them for teaching them that morning? What about putting on caps and smocks, laying the table and a rotating team of children collecting everyone’s meals from the kitchen where they thank the kitchen staff? The food in the video is restaurant standard: fried fish with pear sauce, five-vegetable soup and potatoes grown on the school site. Wow!

The Japanese lunch system is a lesson in respect, responsibility and a commitment to working together. In some schools, pupils all brush their teeth after their lunch and then wash their milk cartons, break them down and recycle them. The class then tidy the class ready for the afternoon session.

The more you dig into the way Japan approaches the school lunch system, you begin to appreciate we are light years behind.

Isn’t this what a lunchtime should be about – preparation, cleanliness, punctuality, strength, determination, manners, good eating habits, respectful conversations, ethics and teamwork?

Feed The System

Eating with your pupils in class or in the canteen can facilitate far better rapport and it is an opportunity to learn key social skills, learn valuable life lessons and learn about each other – this all feeds back into class and can make teaching and learning a lot more effective.

You could ‘do lunch’ every day but that might not always be possible if you have a club or meeting, but I’d certainly aim for two of three times a week. Start as you mean to go on too – next term commit to eating with your pupils – lots of teachers do for the first week or so and then this soon fizzles out.

Eating together regularly enriches school life and that has to be good for everyone’s wellbeing. Even if your conversations are full of junk, they matter and can nourish relationships.

4 thoughts on “Eat Together, Learn Together

  1. I often have a “dinner date” with a group of children from my class. It’s a lovely way to chat to them and encourage good table manners at the same time. One school I worked in had a day each week when local OAPs came for lunch. Hugely popular and a wonderful meeting of generations.

  2. It is not uncommon practice in independent schools, especially the ‘top’ public schools, for staff and students to eat, sing in the choir, play in the band, play sports and discuss life together. It would be great if our state schools could do the same. Our schools remain, in themain, as yet untouched by any form of Intergenerational learning.

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