Friday, 30 September 2016

The sight and sound of joy

On this, the last day of September, I look back to the first day.  Firstly, I recoil at the thought of how long ago that seems.  Then I take some time to consider what a good start that was, and how that in turn has led to a really good … start.

Back on (what seems an epoch ago) the opening day of the school year, when the staff all crawled back bleary eyed in to the hall for our opening inset day, we had our usual day of strategic craziness planned.  I took great delight in sharing the successes from last year for both centre and school, and discussed how I planned for us to grow more and more, and achieve more and more, all underpinned by our vision of aspire – achieve – enjoy.

So wide ranging is our organisation now that we do not spend the whole day together – we can be more strategic if we work in specific groups, and therefore this is what we did.  However, as the staff all know, I always like to put an aspect of teamwork and / or new learning into the proceedings – if teachers themselves are not real learners, how can we ever empathise with those we seek to instruct?  

Therefore, the afternoon opened with a sense of forbidding – what idea would he have this year? 
Those colleagues of mine who’ve been on this journey for a while will recall teamwork of insets past: the day I taught them all the ukulele, the group dance, and the radio adverts.  How does one top that?  You don’t, you just seek to develop it.

So, as the shadows grew longer in the hall and new staff a little more worried, I got them started.  Assigning our three new teachers the roles of team captains, I asked the staff to get themselves into teams and charged each group with designing a representation of either aspire, achieve or enjoy.  They had an hour.  Go!

For forty minutes, frenetic energy was all around, as creations took shape.  Odd music made a cameo, thankfully fleeting appearance, and a few minutes before our time the creations began to take the stage.  Aspire took the form of arrows and stars, photographs and positivity, all made from a cone, a rounders pole, and little love.  Achieve took on weightier metaphors, with hearts and brains balanced by maths scales, and surrounded by tempting presents or the rewards of your labours.  Enjoy was more of 2 dimension affair, taking the form of a character full of the wonders life has to offer, and looking like she had the time of her life.  “This is Joy”, her team announced. 

And I thought to myself, you know what, it is, actually. 

Since then, I have been a little overwhelmed with the quality of the start we have made this year, and extremely proud of the work already created.  Our wonderful children are back, and have been for four weeks, and all we’ve had is a really lovely time, thank you.  And there is no secret to it, it’s really quite simple: our children are having a super time because they’re being super – conscientious, friendly, fun, enthusiastic.  In fact, you can see the joy.  (And can I all remind you, I have on more than one occasion penned blogs about how much I want September over and done with…)

Our new staff have all contributed enormously to our school with their enormous work rates, and have already established themselves as super team members, evidenced not a little by today’s feast of a Macmillan coffee morning.  Thanks to Miss Beeks organisation, two tables in the staffroom were groaning beneath the weight of all the goodies.  It will come, I am sure, as no little surprise that joy was all around us. 

The governors have been in, working as hard as they always do, and they too noticed it: “it’s so calm” they told us, “so happy”.  When you’re sat in the meeting room trying to negotiate the minefields of the budget, it makes life so much easier when you can hear coming, from outside, the sound of dedicated, hard working children failing to allow any of the challenges they encounter to dampen their amazing spirits.

All of this means that you can literally see and hear the joy. 

And this is none of my usual hyperbole, no lily gilded to make a crass point – it’s scout’s honour.  Not that I was ever a scout, mind, I was in the Boys’ Brigade for an afternoon because their football team was short, and I had to tell everyone my name was Sunil Plaha, but anyhoo.  No, you can literally hear and see, sense the joy around the place.  It’s abundant, it’s everywhere, and it’s great.

Once again, I am left to ponder the true nature of what it is we do, and to consider are we actually looking in the right direction when we set off on the year’s journey.  We set of with laudable goals about targets and standards, about quality and about improvement.  We never set out with the target to make the school more joyful, but that’s what’s happened.

And the irony is, would we have actually achieved it so well if that’s what we’d had planned?

So, sat here at the desk in the corridor surrounded by too many pieces of stray paper and the remnants of a certain (secret recipe it will go with me to the grave) cheesecake, I have no feelings about September being over and done with.  Far from it – I’d do it all again given the chance. 

And its all down to a character called Joy – after all, that’s what we said right at the start – “This is joy” – and, boy, were we right.

Excited for the year ahead, and once again humbled by the efforts of the adults and children I get to spend my days with, that is all.