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Creativity for control freaks

Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Teaching and learning assistants

Every teacher's dream is to have a regular teaching assistant who takes work and does it as well as you would do it yourself if you had the time.

Sometimes it doesn't work out because funding isn't there, sometimes the teaching assistant isn't up to it, and sometimes we are too damn precious about doing all our jobs ourselves.

For too long I saw teaching assistants as an obstacle to my creativity, rather than a help. It's easy to feel you need to "rein things in" when another grown-up is sitting there, particularly if they sit in other classes in the school as well. You want your class to be the most orderly, produce the best work and enjoy the lesson, without going over the top. I worried about painting in case it got out of hand. I thought twice about role-play and acting in front of another adult. Then I realised if I was going over the top, I could perhaps take the teaching assistant with me.

It began as a bit of joke. Barbara was the kind of teaching assistant you wanted around simply because she made the classroom a better place. She was also someone who could get hold of anything you needed - including 120 hard-boiled eggs. One day she came in and I said: "The lovely Mrs Wilkes", and started a round of applause which the class joined in with gusto. I saw the pleasure under Barbara's embarrassment and the delight the pupils took in being nice to her. I started promoting her in their eyes as "the woman who could do anything", and we set up moments when I gave her seemingly impossible challenges, which she achieved to the astonishment and delight of the class. She enjoyed working with us and we loved having her there.

"Now how does that help our literacy and numeracy?" I hear you standard-raisers shout. Well, perhaps it doesn't, but we all know that happy environments lead to better learning, while disaffected grown-ups sitting in the corner looking miserable certainly do not.

So here's the challenge: what unique contribution to our class could these adults make? How can we identify it and how could we celebrate it? One of my teaching assistants is our fitness expert, sharing the exercises she does at the gym. Another is our "needlework champion", the first port of call in technology lessons. How much would it improve morale if every class hailed their teaching assistants with a round of applause - not as a joke, but as a result of genuine respect for an ability or talent they had?

I'm learning that for classes to be creative, the spotlight needs to fall on the pupils more than the teacher. Perhaps it could fall on some of the other adults around the place as well.

Peter Greaves teachers at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email:

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