Illuminate our world

Peter Greaves

In a year with many dark events, Peter Greaves and his pupils have found a symbol of hope

As I was filing away some of my assemblies for the year, I looked at all the themes and titles. It was a year with more dark occasions than usual.

The first assembly of 2005 was on the Asian tsunami, later came the death of the Pope. The London bombings came in the summer. The start of this academic year saw the flooding in central and north America, and now has come the Pakistan earthquake. Each term and each season has had its own particular flavour of sadness and, significantly, sadness that has been felt across the world.

Perhaps it is the nature of our global community, or maybe we are getting better at allowing pupils to look outside their own circumstances, but I have never been as aware of pupils' empathetic concern for people around the world. The mix of this year's reaction to the tsunami and the pro-action of the Make Poverty History campaign have led to conversations and observations I have rarely experienced.

I found myself wanting to work out a way for pupils to reflect on this sense of togetherness with the world's community. And, with each assembly I filed, I noticed a recurring symbol that we used to indicate sadness and hope, past and future - a symbol recognised around the world: a candle.

You may have seen the tsunami commemoration with thousands of candles floating on the water. What a moving image it was. Equally, the image of a single flame for each London explosion in a recent service of remembrance conveyed the same sense of loss and memory just as powerfully. Whether held aloft at Live8 or lit in thanks for the life of the Pope, everyone understands what candles are about.

I use candles a lot in school, and at present, they have a high profile because we have entered the season of Festivals of Light. Diwali saw Chandny bring in candles, incense and sweets to share with the class, and we heard again the story of Rama and Sita triumphing over evil as light defeats darkness. Harvi shared the Sikh celebrations of Diwali and how the Sixth Guru Hargobind was freed from imprisonment.

As the children in Leicester begin to go home from school in the dark, they see lights in the windows of celebrating families and watch the fireworks in the sky.

This season is rich with such experiences and opportunities. Eid brought celebration as a new month released Muslims from the unifying discipline of Ramadan. Ali told us about staying up late into the night, waiting to see that full moon.

I remember my former pupil Reuben's tales of Hanukkah and the joy of this festival of light. Then, in my pigeon-hole, appeared this year's advent candle with a reminder of the Christian belief in the foretelling of Jesus, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light..."

Such different festivals, such diverse reasons for celebration, but one common symbol to remember the past and the future.

So as we head towards the end of the year, my class will have a candle time each day to reflect on the many good things that fill our lives. This leads to sharing of disappointments and sadness, too.

This year, I'm also going to draw on the global collective that my pupils feel a part of. As we look at the candle, we will remember how it has been used through the year. We will think about what this flame might mean to someone who lives in Indonesia or Pakistan or London or New Orleans.

We will think about what different people around the world may be hoping for in the year to come, and missing from the year gone by. As a candle flame has been a source of unity with the world in the past year, so we will use it as a sign of our hopes for next year.

I will also be keeping in mind the little flames that have burned brightly for me this year and make my job such a privilege.

Luke came up to tell me he thought it was ridiculous that there was no mention of the Pakistan earthquake on the previous night's news. "It's not like it's all OK now and all those people have homes, is it?" he said and, somewhere, for someone, a candle was lit.

creativity for control freaks TEACHER 13 Peter Greaves is deputy head at Dovelands primary in Leicester

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Peter Greaves

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