Take a lesson out of Africa: teamwork can help us all enjoy a taste of honey

28th November 2008, 12:00am
Peter Greaves


Take a lesson out of Africa: teamwork can help us all enjoy a taste of honey


OK. If you can't manage to get an assembly out of the next paragraph, I'll eat my collective worship evaluation appendix.

Have you ever heard of the greater honeyguide bird and the honey badger? These animals can be found throughout Africa and have developed a feeding relationship that is well documented, if not scientifically proven.

The honey badger is a lover of wild honey and will withstand many bee stings as it feeds on its favourite food. Unfortunately, it cannot always find the hives.

The greater honeyguide bird also loves to drink bee juice and can find the hives, although it does not have the wherewithal to get into them. So what happens? The honey badger has learnt to be led by the greater honeyguide bird to the hive.

On arrival, it breaks in, uses its "spray" to drive out the bees, and feasts, accompanied by its greater honeyguide bird friend, which can now enjoy the honey as well.

What a metaphor! You just have to decide where you are going to take it. You could take the "community cohesion" angle and think about how different skills can combine and work for the good of all.

Or you could take the "valuing difference" line and encourage pupils to embrace the differences they see in others, rather than judge or make fun of them. I will pass on your thanks to Mr Pickering for the great assembly he gave me. Once the assembly is over, however, take time to ponder this image from your own perspective.

There is no debate about what constitutes our bread and butter in primary schools. Whether we like it or not, unless your school is in a position to put the Sats results on its "maintenance" list, everything is carried out under the umbrella of raising attainment. But teaching and learning have never been just about bread and butter, so the first thing we've got to learn from our furry friends is never to stop craving honey.

We would hope that schools are places full of learners searching for richness. We would want to say we are in the business of finding rich, sweet nourishment that brings strength to our young people and vitality to the society in which they are growing up. When this happens, we see pupils fill themselves on learning and life skills. In turn, we too are nourished and given fresh energy for the next stage of the journey.

The problem is, the current climate does not provide us with a single guide, leading us to a universally acknowledged ambrosia. There is not one greater honeyguide, wheeling and darting above us, leading with single purpose towards the next challenge.

Rather, we are confronted with a multitude of beasts, dive-bombing around our "heads" until a particular bearing is considered to be the right path. Not far down the road, another brute will swoop down to cause a change in direction and an awful lot of time and energy can be spent turning down all sorts of different side roads, without so much as a whiff of honey. So what is your honey?

As generalists, there are always subjects that we do because we have to, and we try to do the best we can. But there are also those elements of teaching and organisation that we want to do.

Consider the aspects of the classroom and the curriculum that you are always willing to put that extra effort into and get satisfaction from. Perhaps display is your thing, or drama, or music or philosophy for children, or circle time, or a million other things.

Those are just a few of the countless features that could be found in any classroom, but are only found in this unique combination in your classroom. You will find your honey in that place on your timetable, or in your memory, where you feel yourself professionally licking your lips.

So, once identified, is there someone else who can help you to break open that hive?

You may feel like the honeyguide who can lead there, but doesn't have the clout. Look around - both within the school and outside it - for someone who can break down barriers or identify resources. As well as giving you the muscle, they will help you to take the stings when they come. It's always easier to keep going if you're not on your own.

Equally, you may feel you are storming around, expending tons of energy but tasting nothing. Look for that member of your school who seems to have a touch of class about them. They could lead you somewhere magical that you would never get to on your own.

Just one last thing. The honey badger is featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the meanest animal on the planet. They obviously haven't seen me when someone takes my allocation of new glue sticks.

Peter Greaves, Deputy head of a Midlands primary school.

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