A motherly hug makes it all worth while

MANY of our summer activities are regarded as traditions and any attempt to change them would attract protests from parents and pupils. Since traditions are not expected to alter, it was with confusion and then delight that I found our closing assembly adopting a new conclusion after parents, children and teachers had tumbled out of our hall into nearby corridors.

A group of primary 7 parents returned. The dads said thanks and were followed by a group of mums, each of whom took her turn to throw her arms around me and give me an enthusiastic hug. No words were spoken since all were tearful.

For each, the youngest child was leaving and ending the family's long and happy relationship with our school. Some daughters joined in, imitating their mothers' hugging while the sons made do with a manly handshake and a "See you, sir".

For me, not one of life's natural huggers, the embraces were as enjoyable as they were unexpected and provided a boost to the self-esteem when I was at my tiredest. Some parents can be unreasonably troublesome but we forget that most are appreciative of our efforts.

A few days before, we completed our traditional three-night run of a musical production, this year Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Our depute head directed while the rest of us took on the usual backstage tasks. Many teachers commented on the enjoyable backstage atmosphere and how they had witnessed the development of children's confidence through rehearsal and performance.

"Why can't it always be like this," asked one, "instead of having to teach to narrow targets?" No one answered but we knew that we had achieved the best expressive arts of the year without producing a teaching plan or assessing our music and drama outcomes.

A host of traditional outings were organised and, as a special treat, I joined one myself after years of being "too busy". It was time to re-establish my confidence after the occasion, about 10 years ago, when we set off in a fleet of double-deckers for a whole-school outing to Craigtoun Park near St Andrew's. We assumed that our drivers knew their way. Our confidence was dented, in those days before mobile phones were everywhere, when our convoy was split up and individual buses staggered blindly around St Andrew's.

After exploring the housing estates beyond the centre, we were comforted to find another of our vehicles in the same suburban road but heading in the opposite direction. Together we improved our prospects of getting out alive but we were the lucky ones. Some of our colleagues had to eat their packed lunches on their lost buses before reaching the safety of Craigtoun Park in the afternoon. Any longer and they may have had to eat the children.

My visit with primary 6 to Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh restored my confidence. The engrossing and imaginative telling of the story of earth and its creatures deserves its success and is an object lesson in how to build a millennium dome that works.

One private tradition among the madnesses of June, is to begin my new diary. Normal people consider it perverse to use a diary running from August to July and would think me even stranger were I to admit that beginning the new diary is one of the highlights of my summer.

In my best and rarely seen handwriting, I enter the dates of terms, events and meetings to which I am committed. The new year takes on a clear shape and for a while I feel in control of it, an illusion shattered during each August when the year dons its spikes and runs off, with me flailing about in scrawly handwriting behind it.

I must make a diary note for the final day of summer term 2003: "Encourage new tradition of mothers hugging headteacher and boosting his confidence before summer holidays."

Brian Toner is headteacher of St John's primary in Perth.

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