In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey challenges his readers to consider the one thing that if done regularly and well would make the biggest difference to their days and weeks. It's a very New Year kind of question and something I try to think about on returning for the spring term. Last year, I felt it was the end of my day that was least satisfactory and I resolved to do something about it.
It came after talking with a teacher who had helped to host a group of visiting teachers from Brazil. A recurring theme was the "coldness" of the English teachers towards their pupils. Slightly offended, my colleague asked them to explain. "How can you say goodnight to your pupils without hugging them?" came the reply. An explanation of the "hands-off" culture we are accustomed to brought open-mouthed disbelief. I decided to implement a personal ritual to end each day. Too many days ended in flustered letter-giving-out-tidy-up-ness. Feeling the Brazilian hug was inappropriate, I went for the very British handshake.
I started by making sure all end-of-the-day housekeeping was done with five minutes to go. I wanted to ensure that the order and calmness which I worked so hard to begin the day with was still evident at the end. I highlighted three things I was pleased with about the day, sometimes picking out individuals, but always relating their achievement or contribution to the class as a whole. Then I gave a quick outline of what was to happen the next day, along with any relevant reminders, before starting my rounds.
As I looked each pupil in the eye, shook their hand and wished them good night, there were some, perhaps the majority, just willing me to get on with it so that they could get their coat and rush home for Tweenies. But some, a different bunch every night, used the opportunity they had been waiting all day for. Tom tells me he's off to see Busted, Eddie tells me a riddle he's been saving, Gurveen tells me she still can't find her lunchbox and Alex tells me he needs to change his book. I don't feel the need to solve problems or answer instantly. I am just pleased that, even at the end of the day, I have managed to squeeze in some individual moments.
We all have moody moments in the classroom, reacting in ways we look back on with regret. This end-of-the-day ritual does at least make sure that the last thing I say to pupils every day is personal and positive. I'm not sure what this year's classroom resolution will be, but this is one I intend to continue keeping for years to come.
Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org