The email arrived: after six long weeks of relaxation and tranquillity, it is time to return to work.
The details of Inset reveal we will attend a session run by a man called Joshua Jay who is, it turns out, a magician.
It is easy to imagine the moans and groans, combined with sceptic remarks, about a man using magic to help us develop our skills as teachers.
How could a magician help with our professional development?
And yet…In his performance-based keynote, the globe-trotting magician Joshua Jay pulled back the curtain on the way magicians think.
He explored how magicians create seemingly impossible feats to captivate their audiences, drawing uncanny parallels between magicians and teachers.
He demonstrated how the techniques that underpin his own work, such as the guiding of focus, the framing of expression, the staging of surprises, can all be used in the classroom to wow our students.
Ironically, it is hard to maintain the attention of teachers – we appear to have very short attention spans. Yet he mystified us all with some of his signature illusions, all structured and refined using the seemingly simple art of storytelling.
A kind of magic
Sleight of hand, basic redirection and simple honest trickery all lead to one place – a place of wonder and questions, scarily similar to what we aim to achieve on a daily basis.
The one-man "show" culminated in a grand finale, of course, based on a series of random numbers generated by audience participation activities over the course of the hour. This engaging narrative kept us completely captivated and led us to discover this number already existed – it was a barcode on a packet of Skittles!
To further consolidate this sense of awe and intrigue, inside the packet of Skittles was a wedding ring he had previously taken from one of our teachers.
Is it all just hocus pocus?
Leaving the session with a rubber thumb and a sugar trick was certainly not something I had envisaged. Sharing this trick with anyone that came to my house for three days after the INSET was equally something I had not anticipated.
After the razzmatazz had faded, though, I found I was still pondering what I had learned from the performance and how it could be used in lessons.
I decided to revisit the basics. An engaging starter to grab their attention. A quote to probe deeper thinking. A question that demanded engagement: how amazing is the planet we live on?
This was followed by using learning questions that had no set objective. Instead of telling them something was magic and expecting them to believe me, why not go back to the mystery and keep them guessing, to let them understand it gradually.
Activities became a bit more fast-paced than usual – they were more varied and unpredictable, sometimes not quite making sense until the big reveal.
A timely reminder
In no way am I teaching anyone to suck eggs – after all, I have been teaching for 16 years and feel comfortable with my pedagogy by now. So perhaps all this is something most teachers feel they do anyway.
But for me, our experience with a magician and how we take his showmanship into the classroom was a reminder of the excitement and intrigue of the learning experience; going along with them instead of just talking at them.
It inspired me to draw on the same enthusiasm and wonder we all started with, minus the pressure and the heavy burden of politics, ever-present, looming over us. After all, magic can be simple; you believe and they will, too.
I guess, whether we appreciate it or not, there is certainly a bit of magic in what we do every day. We adopt the role of the storyteller, perform a range of tricks and finally pull the proverbial white rabbit from the hat – ta-da!
Maybe we are magicians – we make students believe in possibility and then ultimately take them on an exciting journey to discover it.
Anne Looker is an English Teacher and Community Service Coordinator at St Christoper’s, Bahrain. She has been teaching for 16 years, and internationally for four