Creativity for control freaks

Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week:

Time for reflection

Just like pretty much every idea I write down, my final thoughts are not original. They hang on an image I first heard about many years ago. The way I first heard it, a lecturer walked in front of his students for the first talk of the year. He took out a bucket and placed large rocks inside until it was full. "Is it full?" he asked. "Yes," came the reply. He then got some gravel and tipped it into the bucket, allowing the gravel to fit into the spaces between the rocks. "Is it full?" he asked. "Yes," came the reply. The professor then got some sand and poured it in. "Is it full?" he asked. "Yes," came the reply. Finally, he got some water and the students watched as it was absorbed by the sand in the seemingly full bucket.

So what lesson is there for us here? Well, the obvious one is to look back on the year and reflect on just how much we have managed to cram in. The problems in the playground sorted, books marked, parents met and meetings attended. Not to mention roughly 190 literacy and numeracy hours. Even more inspiring, think how much has been learnt. Up and down the land there are young people putting on their coats, tying their laces and using a whole range of skills and understanding - things they couldn't do this time last year.

We know next year will be more of the same, as we return for that first Teacher Day full of hope. We will not be able to imagine how a single thing can have been left unplanned or how an extra teaching minute in the school day could be found. Then we will discover the new kid, which means an extra table, and learn that our school has been entered for the "Classrooms in Bloom" competition - and off we will go.

The bigger lesson in the "bucket" story, though, is the most valuable one.

The professor was showing his students that the only way to get everything in was to put the big rocks in first. Like every teacher across the year, I find myself wandering in many different directions, trying out a great number of new ideas. Some stick, others don't. The holiday is a time for me to decide what will be "The Big Rocks" of my classroom next year, and plan for them. Some kiddie things will be in: I want to have a pet and an "art corner" in my tiny room next year. Some curriculum things are in: I'd like to teach the whole class to play the recorder. Whatever makes the cut is what I will make sure is in place before the gravel, sand and water of everyday life comes pouring down. As you take a break, think about the essentials and get them in first.

For a few weeks, though, I plan to keep the gravel, sand and water under my feet on the beach. I hope you get a good break, too.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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